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By jim smith | correspondent
While it was an explosive offense that propelled Kent Roosevelt's ice hockey team to the championship game of the Rough Rider Holiday Tournament on Sunday night, it was solid defense and a total team effort that earned the Rough Riders the tournament championship.
By defeating the Mayfield Wildcats 4-2 at the Kent State University Ice Arena, the Rough Riders became the first team to win the annual holiday event in consecutive years since 2000-2001.
The Rough Riders had scored a total of 23 goals in their final two round-robin games of the tournament, but Sunday night was all about defense.
"For the majority of the game we played really strong defensively, and I think (goaltender) Nate Grooetgoed stepped up; I was really proud of his efforts," a victorious Roosevelt coach Ben Barlow said.
The Rough Riders and Wildcats played the initial 15 minutes with neither team able to score.
"It was a good back-and-forth, well-played first period by both teams. We knew we were in a tight game as expected," said Barlow.
The Rough Riders broke the scoreless tie at 11:57 of the second period when Gabe Smith netted the puck after an assist from Kyle Manning.
Later in the middle period, after terrific puck movement among its forwards, Roosevelt scored again on an Okko Boger effort. Earning assists on the well-executed play were Dontae Montemayor and Gordie Fisher.
Kent began the third period with the 2-0 lead and extended the margin to three goals at the seven-minute mark when Scott Rainey's shot found the back of the net. Mitch Francis and Gordie Fisher united for assists on the goal.
Mayfield battled back by scoring the next two goals of the game, and with just over three minutes remaining in the game the score had tightened to 3-2.
Sophomore Paul Jablonski scored both of the Wildcats' goals. Assists on his initial goal were credited to Alex Baele and Jake Macula.
At the 1:48 mark of the third period, Kent regained a two-goal lead on Smith's second goal of the night, set up after an impressive pass by Francis.
"Mitchell Francis had to be moved from a defensive role up as a forward to cover for a player, and he had a beautiful assist on that fourth goal," said Barlow. "Just a good team effort ... we did what we had to do today and I couldn't be more proud of the kids. It feels great to win a championship."
Blue Line Notes
n Barlow cited the energized crowd, filled with former Roosevelt hockey players on Rider Hockey Alumni Night, as important to his team as the current players "wanted to make them proud," he said.
n North Olmsted was the last team to win consecutive championships in the Rough Rider Holiday Tournament.
n After a two-day holiday break, Kent returns to the ice for two games on Wednesday in the CVCA Holiday Tournament at the KSU Ice Arena. The Riders open play at 10 a.m. against Elyria Catholic and play in a nightcap at 8:45 p.m. against North Canton.