Quick start lifts Ashland into final
The journey was not as swift as he might have hoped, but Chris Bonelli's Ashland High hockey team has arrived at the perfect time.
Ashland's big line of Lewis Sebrell, Casey Skolnik and Trevor Perry accounted for 10 points on Wednesday night as the Grizzlies dominated South Medford 7-1 at The RRRink to reach the championship game of the Southern League playoffs.
"I've been looking for this team since the beginning of the season," Bonelli said. "It seems now their heads are on straight. We know we have the team to achieve everything we've set out to achieve."
Few who watched on Wednesday could argue that point.
Just as they had done in a six-goal first period against North Medford last Saturday, the Grizzlies dominated from the opening faceoff and never let up, registering a 51-18 advantage in shots and consistently beating the Panthers to nearly every loose puck.
"They basically beat us to the puck," South assistant coach Eric Weber said. "We let them play their game, rather than us playing our game."
Ashland (10-5-0) scored three times on its first five shots against South's John Adamson, the league's top goaltender during the regular season. Ashland has now outscored Klamath Falls, North and South by a combined 18-5 score in the last eight days.
"Momentum has been on our side," Bonelli said in the understatement of the night. "There's no doubt we should be able to take this thing."
Regular-season champ South Medford (10-3-1) will face North Medford (7-4-3) in a semifinal game at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday. North Medford beat Klamath Falls 6-2 earlier Wednesday to stay alive in the tournament.
The winner of the North-South game gets a shot at Ashland in the championship game at 7:30 on Saturday. Should Ashland lose, those two teams would meet again on March 5 in a decisive game for the title.
"We don't want to get complacent," Bonelli said. "But it's nice not to have your back against the wall."
Whoever faces Ashland will need a defensive plan to contain Sebrell and Skolnik, the league's two top scorers. Sebrell had a goal and two assists Wednesday to race his playoff total to six goals and six assists in three games. Skolnik scored twice and added two helpers. Freshman Perry had the game's opening goal and two assists.
"They are really clicking," Bonelli said of his top line. "Trevor has learned a lot from Casey and Lewis."
Perry opened the scoring 2:50 in, putting home a rebound in front of the Panther net. Josh McLaughlin and Jack Rasmussen added goals 1:41 apart and Ashland had a 3-0 lead before the game was five minutes old. South didn't register a shot on goal until the game was more than 13 minutes old.
After Lane Littlefield's goal on a breakaway cut the margin to 3-1 and gave South a flicker of hope, Skolnik scored with one second remaining in the period to push the margin to 4-1.
Stephan McLaughlin, Sebrell and Skolnik added markers in the second to build the lead to 7-1.
"We were playing really fast tonight," said Sebrell, almost in shock at his team's margin of victory. "We're making better decisions when to pass. When we spread out, you draw the defense to you."
North Medford showed remarkable resiliency, bouncing back from its loss to Ashland to dominate Klamath Falls (9-6-0) in the elimination game.
Cody Chiverton scored twice for the Tornado, whose 45 shots were a season high.
"The biggest difference was that it was do or die tonight," North coach Coy Iacono said. "The guys were really hungry. We were able to put two lines of pressure on them all night."
Klamath tied the game 1-all late in the first period despite being soundly outplayed. But the Black Tornado responded with a pair of goals by Chiverton sandwiched around a tally by Rex Bufalino in the second to regain control and set up the meeting with the Panthers.
"It's going to be tough," Iacono said of the prospect of stringing together a pair of wins Saturday and another next week against an Ashland team that has become the class of the league. "But it's a well-matched league. Anybody can win it."
A couple of hours later, Weber echoed the same sentiment.
"This is our first loss," he said. "It's a long road back, but we're still in it."
Ashland 7, South Medford 1
Ashland 4 3 0 — 7
South Medford 1 0 0 — 1
North Medford 6, Klamath Falls 2
Klamath Falls 1 0 1 — 2
North Medford 1 3 2 — 6
Reach Mark Vinson at 776-4499, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org