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Ashland powers past South for title

Stephan McLaughlin made certain that his final high school hockey game would be a memory he wouldn't soon forget.

McLaughlin, Ashland's senior captain, scored the game's opening goal and added two assists as the Grizzlies defeated South Medford 4-1 at The RRRink in Medford on Saturday night to claim the Southern League hockey championship for the third time in the league's five years.

"It seems a lot more meaningful," said McLaughlin, who was a freshman on the Grizzlies' last championship team in 2005 and plans to play club hockey at the University of Washington next winter. "It just shows hard pays off."

South Medford, which was playing less than two hours after defeating North Medford 4-1 in the semifinals, played a decidedly cleaner game than it had in a 7-3 loss to Ashland on Wednesday and made the Grizzlies uncomfortable despite never holding the lead.

"We had a lot of nerves," said Ashland coach Chris Bonelli, whose team led only 2-1 after two periods despite controlling the play. "We were getting more opportunities, but we just couldn't settle down."

South Medford senior goalie John Adamson held the fort against an onslaught of Ashland shots in the first period, keeping the game scoreless until McLaughlin's wrist shot beat him on Ashland's 11th shot of the period, with just 52 seconds remaining.

"It's always important to get the first goal," said McLaughlin, who lost an edge and fell to the ice as he released the shot. "I knew we eventually would get it, and it just clicked."

Ashland, which outscored opponents 22-6 in four playoff wins, made it 2-0 midway through the second period on Mathias Dean's goal, but South got one back when a seemingly harmless wrist shot by Zack MacDonald from the circle couldn't be handled by Ashland netminder Kyle Smelcer and cut the lead to 2-1 just before the second intermission.

"We had a lot of opportunities, but we just couldn't capitalize," junior forward Casey Skolnik said.

Smelcer only had to make 10 saves, but did stop Dane Irving on a second-period breakaway and Wyatt Small early in the third to keep the Grizzlies in front.

"They played better defense and we just couldn't get shots," said Panthers coach Jon Andrews, whose team was outshot 33-11.

"There was no panic or anger," Skolnik said of the Grizzlies' dressing room during the second intermission. "We just hadn't capitalized."

With the game hanging precariously in the balance, Skolnik seized the opportunity.

After South's Dane Irving was sent off for tripping 3:17 into the third, Skolnik gained the puck in his own zone and sped up ice, firing a wrister that beat Adamson under his right arm for a 3-1 lead with 11:03 left. Skolnik added another goal with 9:15 left to finish the scoring.

"Casey's a great kid and he did what he had to do," Andrews said. "You can't let a kid with that much power and speed be running around by himself."

Lewis Sebrell, who had seven goals in the previous three tournament games, didn't score Saturday, but got an assist on Skolnik's first goal. Ashland was 1-for-5 on the powerplay, while South Medford was 0-for-6.

South had been forced to play Saturday because of the lack of ice availability at The RRRink. Kyle Smith scored twice in the win over North Medford, which lost senior Matthew McClure to a broken leg in the first period.

But fatigue seemed to catch up to the Panthers in the third period against Ashland.

"It definitely made a difference," Andrews said. "They only had an hour and a half between games. Our stronger kids had a little less legs."

Linescores

Ashland 4, South Medford 1

South Medford 0 1 0 — 1

Ashland 1 1 2 — 4

South Medford 4, North Medford 1

North Medford 0 0 1 — 1

South Medford 1 1 2 — 4

Reach reporter Mark Vinson at 776-4499, or e-mail mvinson@mailtribune.com