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Grizzlies get back on track

MEDFORD — Its winning streak just a distant memory, its league lead vanished and its ranks stretched to the uttermost, the Ashland High hockey team called on a familiar hero and a new one to find the winning touch on Wednesday night.

Senior Casey Skolnik matched a season high with six goals and Carley Santee netted her first as the Grizzlies used a fast start to snap a two-game losing streak and cruise past North Medford 10-5 at The RRRink.

"It was definitely important after two losses," said Skolnik, whose nine-point night allowed him to surpass the 50-point plateau (36 goals, 15 assists). Skolnik had 65 points (30 goals, 35 assists) last season, earning Southern Oregon League Player of the Year honors.

Ashland was without four regulars — Kai and Ian White, Jeffrey Jensen and Keegan Healy — plus head coach Tom Harrison. Harrison, a detective with the Oregon State Police, is on assignment out of town. He and as many as three of the players could return for Friday's first-place showdown with Churchill at The RRRink. Ashland (9-1-1, 27 points) pulled within a single point of the league leaders. Churchill (10-1-0, 28 points) handed the Grizzlies their only two losses of the season last weekend.

"We saw what they have up there in Eugene," Skolnik said. "They're solid and they don't have any weak players."

The Grizzlies dressed just 11 skaters and two goalies on Wednesday, yet jumped to a 6-1 first-period advantage in beating the Black Tornado for the third time in as many tries this season, outscoring them by a combined 23-9 margin.

"I really challenged some of the less-experienced players," said assistant coach Mark Moeglein, who filled in for Harrison. "We knew we were pretty short tonight, so they got a lot of ice time and they stepped up."

Among those was Santee, a junior who was the goaltender on the state championship girls water polo team in the fall and is playing hockey for the first time this winter.

With Ashland leading 1-0, Skolnik skated across the blue line and fired a shot that glanced off the pad of North Medford goaltender Chase Myers. Myers failed to control the puck, however, and like the softball player she is in the spring, Santee dove head-first toward the cage, stick in front, deflecting the puck into the open net for her first goal.

"Last game, the same thing happened where Casey shot and I dove for it and it popped out," Santee said. "But this time I got my stick on it and got it in, so I was really excited."

The goal gave the Grizzlies a 2-0 lead midway through the first period. Goals by Skolnik and defenseman-turned-center Josh McLaughlin less than a minute later pushed the lead to 4-0 and Ashland coasted from there. The 10 goals equalled a season high, set in the season opener against Crater on Dec. 3.

"It was important that we came out and showed that even when we are missing a few people, we can really play good hockey," said McLaughlin, who had two goals and an assist. "We kind of controlled the tempo of the game so we could play more positional hockey and not have to chase the puck and get tired."

Skolnik, who had opened he scoring on a beautiful forehand off a breakaway got his third goal on another breakaway with 4:44 left in the period. Five of his six goals came on breakaways. More often than not, he played chess game with Myers, waiting for the goalie to commit and then tapping the puck behind him.

"I'm playing mind games with him," Skolnik said. "I probably think about it more than he does. I kept him off-balance. The first goal, I went to my forehand, kept it pretty simple. Then I'll go backhand the next time."

Senior Alan Evans had a pair of goals and an assist for North Medford (4-7-0, 11 points), which has lost seven of eight after a 3-0 start and fallen to fifth place in the league. The Tornado played without defenseman Taylor Covey, who was serving a one-game suspension following a fight with Crater's Jake Randol on Saturday.

The Grizzlies, who had a 40-28 shot advantage, didn't dominate puck possession the way they have in past games.

Trevor Perry joined McLaughlin and Matthias Dean on Ashland's defense, while newcomers Trevor Hilligross and Ella Riley-Adams saw additional minutes.

"When it comes to managing the bench, I just set it up before the game who was playing what and what the rotations were," Moeglein said. "They all knew their roles before the game and they took it from there."

"We have the A line and the B line," Santee said. "A lot of the A liners are gone, so the B liners had to step up this game to fill those spots."

Gabe Dean made 23 saves for Ashland, but did allow a pair of soft goals to Evans and Ryan Brousseau in the third period.

Ashland 6 2 2 — 10

North Medford 1 2 3 — 5

First period

AHS: Skolnik, 1:00

AHS: Santee (Skolnik), 6:13

AHS: Skolnik (Perry), 7:13

AHS: McLaughlin, 7:23

AHS: Skolnik, 10:16

NMHS: Sipress, 10:22

AHS: Taylor (Skolnik), 13:11

Second period

AHS: McLaughlin (Skolnik), 5:27

NMHS: Evans (Brousseau), 11:58

AHS: Skolnik (Perry), 14:21

Third period

AHS: Skolnik, 5:52

NMHS: Evans, 6:39

AHS: Skolnik, 7:08

NMHS: McClure (Evans), 10:53

Shots — AHS 40, NMHS 28

Goalies — AHS: G. Dean (28 shots-23 saves), NMHS: Myers (40-30).