High school hockey has closed the curtain on 2023 but the season rolls on as we get back underway now in 2024. Six regular season games remain which leaves two games left against each team. Typically this is the phase of the season where we see some shaking up of the pecking order but with the Vipers making big strides over the last 4-5 weeks of play, will we still see that late season charge or have we already had it? We’ll get into that down below as well as a look at where our other teams stand through the first three rotations around the league.
1.) Carroll Chargers (9-0-0; 18 pts.)
Typically this part has been recapping a series of wins for Carroll that came with various degrees of ease. Not so much this time. They got off to a bad start in this turn through the order, needing a shootout to take down the Vipers who entered that game in last place. The Chargers started that game off well and had no shortage of opportunities to score with 14 shots on goal in the first period, all of them being turned aside by Brody Rosswurm. Dylan Braun was able to break through and give Carroll the lead early in the second period with a beautiful wrister over Rosswurm’s shoulder but that was all the offense the Chargers could muster in regulation. Neither team was able to score in overtime so we went to our first shootout of the season. Of the five players that went only one was able score and it was Carter Gnau which put the pressure on Logan Ormsby of the Vipers to keep the game going. Ormsby’s effort was turned aside by Luke Vanantwerp who is now up to seven wins in city play following Carroll’s Week Eight win over Leo that preceded a week off in Week Nine.
Carroll bounced back the following week without much trouble in taking down Leo 4-2. The Chargers were rolling in this game particularly in the second period when they outshot the Lions by a staggering 19-3 margin, which made the shots on goal 32-8 through 30 minutes. Carroll jumped out to an early lead in that game thanks to a goal from Carter Overbay just over two minutes in. Leo was able to answer back a few minutes later but the Chargers gained a lot of separation with three goals in the second period, two of them coming from Braun who is now tied for second in the scoring race after a slow start to league action. Leo was able to find a goal midway through the third to inject a little bit of life into the game but there wasn’t a genuine threat to Carroll’s victory after Leo declined to pull Drew Baumert for an extra attacker late in the game despite having a window to do it. The following week against Homestead was another scare for the Chargers though. In a first period they completely dominated they weren’t able to score which is always at least a little anxiety inducing. After two periods though it looked like all was well after they found the back of the net three times while only conceding once for a comfy two-goal lead over an opponent they were still handling with relative ease. The game continued to look that way until Homestead called their timeout with 3:33 to play and pulled Connor Gould to go 6-on-5. It took all of five seconds for Homestead to score and then they found another one just 1:20 later to tie it.
The drama continued in OT when Braun was given a penalty shot with 2:17 to go. He was unable to convert but 17 seconds later was able to redeem himself and finish the game off. The play started with a great play from Carter Gnau who knocked a Homestead pass out of the air at the Spartan blue line and then passed the puck over to Braun who shot it past the blocker of Gould to escape with the two points. This brings me to one of the big things to note from this rotation for Carroll which was the much-improved play from Braun. The game against Leo where he scored two goals was a good example of how his game has really improved in city the last few weeks and seeing it translate to the scoresheet. Considering his past, he was easy to not notice in the early going but he’s been much more juiceful on the ice as we went into the Christmas break. His 1.33 points/game pace through six weeks has bumped up 1.56 after nine games thanks to a two points per game average in this last rotation. The odd thing about that though is that while his numbers have shot up, the team’s results have not been up to standard in that time frame, with two of their last three games requiring extra time against the bottom two teams in the league.
#2 Leo Lions (6-3-0; 12 pts.)
Heading into their Week Nine matchup against the Vipers, this spot in the rankings was at least semi-up for grabs if the Vipers were able to grab a statement win over the Lions. It wasn’t meant to be though as the Lions let the offense loose and Drew Baumert made 27 saves in a statement win of their own, pummeling the Vipers 6-0. It was an even game through most of the period until Leo grabbed a commanding lead with three late goals, all coming with under three minutes left in the frame. Colin Robison scored the first one after taking a lovely pass from Alex Hendricks. Robison had blazing speed coming up the ice and made easy work of the Vipers players that were all flat-footed as he skated past before ripping a shot under the arm of Brody Rosswurm. Just under a minute and a half later Benjamin Meyer made a great read and jumped into the middle of the ice and took a pass from Jackson Crawford down for a breakaway goal, again catching the Vipers’ defense flat-footed in the process. The Lions furthered their lead 0:44 later with an Anthony Serafini goal from the slot to finish the first period with a 3-0 lead. Sam Schwartz put his name in the goal column with yet another late period goal as the second period neared its conclusion. This was a short-handed goal and wasn’t a dangerous opportunity until Schwartz suddenly let loose a wrist shot that bettered Rosswurm as his three fellow penalty killers went for a line change. A 4-on-3 goal from Riley Murphy early in the third period essentially sealed the win, with a Hendricks goal serving as added emphasis.
In addition to their win over the Vipers, Leo also took care of business in Week Seven against Homestead. The 7-2 win featured four point nights from Robison and Colten Calhoun. Leo conceded the first goal to the Spartans but after that it was all Lions as they roared back with four straight goals in a three minute span in the first period. The Lions then added two more in the second period to make it six in a row before Homestead was able to find an answer. Hendricks made it a moot point however as he reestablished the five goal lead moments later en route to the 7-2 final score. Xander Mulholland made 17 saves in the win. Leo’s most confusing showing of the rotation was their matchup with Carroll in which the 4-2 score line may have been generous to the level of play Leo brought for most of that contest. Leo was unable to get much going on the attack in the first two periods, getting outshot 32-8. The first period wasn’t too bad as they made it out of that period knotted at one but the floodgates opened in the second period which put the game out of reach. That said, at least they didn’t get lit up like a Christmas tree on the scoreboard the same way they did back in Week Five.
For the Lions at this point I think their focus should be on refining their game for the post-season. They are pretty locked in to the second seed in city play. If they could steal something from Carroll in one of their last two regular season games that would be good for morale and momentum, but as we saw last year even if they can’t manage that they’ll still be right there in the Memorial Cup Playoffs. This is also a big year for them in State since they’ll be losing some key players to gradation. This is the last chance for a Baumert-led run to a championship and after finishing Top 4 and runner-up in the past two seasons they are trending in the right direction. Serafini, Mulholland, Hendricks, and Schwartz also are gone after this season which puts more urgency on adding to the trophy case this year. Leo currently sits tenth in the MyHockeyRankings (as of 12-27), and while not to be taken as gospel, that ranking positions them very well for state classification.
#3 Fort Wayne Vipers (2-6-1; 5 pts.)
Stock in the Vipers continues to be on the rise in these parts after a successful trip around town that resulted in 3-of-6 available points. Two of those points were expected in their win against Homestead but it was the point earned against Carroll that distinguished this rotation from the last one. Carroll brought some firepower early but were unable to score as Brody Rosswurm shut down some great looks for the league leaders. He would eventually concede one though to Dylan Braun but that was a great shot that is probably going to beat any goalie in the league. The third period is where things really got going as a parade to the penalty box ensued led by the Vipers. When it was all said and done the Vipers took eight penalties in this one, three of them going to Simon Watson who is in the midst of chasing down Braun for the league lead in penalty minutes. However the Vipers penalty killers took care of business each and every team, somewhat remarkably holding the Chargers to 0-for-7 on the man advantage. In fact the special teams battle in the third actually favored the Vipers as it was a power play tally from Jackson Bertels that tied the game at one with 6:14 to play. Bertels found the puck in the right circle and spun on a shot on net that got the best of the Carroll ‘tender, sending this game to overtime and securing at least a point for both sides. Both teams had chances to win it in overtime but an extra five wasn’t enough to separate the two teams as we headed to our first shootout of the season. The Vipers shot first and opted to send out Bertels who missed but Finn Cupp was unsuccessful as well for Carroll. With another chance to add some pressure to Carroll, Michael Scully was second in line but also failed to convert. Then Carter Gnau scored for Carroll, meaning Logan Ormsby needed to bury his attempt to keep his team in it. He skated in down the left wing and fired his shot wide of the net to send the Vipers home with just one point.
Regardless of the final result, taking Carroll as far as a team can in city play is a moral victory for the team that had occupied the basement in the city standings for most of 2023. It was also an impressive showing from Rosswurm who made 43 saves. Make no mistake about it, given the number of chances for Carroll this was a game that the Vipers would have lost more like 5-1 last year as opposed to 2-1 in a shootout. While Rosswurm’s form has varied at times he has given them a chance to win games they otherwise probably wouldn’t have a chance to win, and that’s all they can really ask for at this point. After that game the Vipers rolled against Homestead and took a 5-1 win that included a pair of goals for Bertels, who now after nine weeks is up to 10 points for the season, three clear of Scully who is in second place on the team with seven. Speaking of Scully, he also contributed two goals in the Homestead win which included the dagger. It was a beauty of a goal as Scully came down from the left point and dipped right between two Spartan defenders and ripped a shot off both posts and in. That made it a 4-1 game with 11:43 to play which was too much for the Spartans to overcome as Kam Clark made 26 saves in net for the Vipers to get his first league win of the season. Things didn’t end on a great note for the squad though as Week Nine brought a blowout loss against 2nd-place Leo. This was an opportunity to make a big statement heading into 2024 after playing Leo tough the first two times this season. For a lot of the game the Vipers were right there but they couldn’t bear down and finish off periods, conceding five to the six goals in the last three minutes of a period. If it weren’t for that, this was acutually a closer game than it would appear. Shots on goal were dead even in the second and third periods but a 14-11 differential in the first led to the final tally being 30-27 for Leo. The Vipers just weren’t able to score enough, or at all, in this one which was a example of the variances in form of Rosswurm although a 6-0 game of course can’t be put on the goalie in totality. Going 0-for-5 on the power play also didn’t help matters but even with that dud the power play at 23% in the last three league games which is improved from the previous six. All things said and done, this is still a team on the upswing that I think will continue to be a very interesting watch the rest of the way.
4.) Homestead Spartans (1-7-1; 3 pts.)
The Spartans gave it their best shot against Carroll in Week Nine but ultimately their late comeback attempt fell just short. However they were able to grab a potentially valuable point in the standings so they didn’t walk away empty handed from what should at least be a moral victory. Scoreboard-wise the game was close through the first period but that was largely due to 18 saves from Connor Gould while the offense could only muster four shots of their own. Penalty trouble early in the second period led to a 5-on-3 goal for the Chargers but Andrew Litwinko was able to tie the game right back up with a shorthanded breakaway goal 1:42 later. Carroll got back on the attack though and two goals in 41 seconds put Homestead on the back foot again as the intermission loomed. The third period was fairly uneventful. At least for the first 11 minutes of it. Then with 3:33 to play Homestead took a timeout and pulled Gould for the extra attacker on an offensive zone faceoff. Right off the draw Daniel Martinsky picked up the puck and made his way into the corner. His centering pass was put on net by by Jacob Gerber and after the initial save was made the rebound came right to Mason Gutmann who buried it to get his team within a goal. Gutmann kept his foot on the gas on the ensuing faceoff and nearly tied the game in a matter of seconds but Cam Gnau made the save for Carroll. While he was denied that time, Gutmann wouldn’t be denied with 2:08 to play. The puck again came out from below the goal line and found its way to Gutmann who sent it past Gnau to tie the game at three and force overtime.
In overtime both teams had control at times but the pivotal moments came just over halfway through the five minute extra period. The first was a penalty shot awarded to Dylan Braun after he was taken down by Gutmann. Gould was able to make the stop and keep his team in the game as he had done throughout the game. The Spartans wouldn’t last much longer though. While Homestead was trying to work the puck up ice after the ensuing faceoff, Carter Gnau broke up a cross-ice pass that turned into a 2-on-0 for him and Braun, who scored the game winning goal for the Chargers. While they didn’t come out with the two points, it was an encouraging result for Homestead who hadn’t been getting any in league play leading up to that game. In the prior two weeks Homestead took a 7-2 loss to Leo and a 5-1 loss to the Vipers which was a more direct hit in terms of the league standings where Homestead is now two points behind in the race for third. Against Leo the Spartans actually scored first but then got lit up for four goals in the next six minutes and then gave up a goal in the first minute of the second period to find themselves down 5-1. By the time all was said and done Homestead put another one on the board but by that time it was far too little and far too late. In Week Eight it was a closer game but at the end of the day Sparty still dropped the two points to the Vipers. Shots on goal were tight through the first 15 with the Vipers holding an 11-8 advantage but they found the back of the net twice to open up a two goal lead. Homestead closed it down to one when Gerber cleaned up the rebound from a Martinsky shot 4:56 into the second. Five minutes later though it was Nick Vanryn for the Vipers who restored the two goal lead and that’s how the score would remain after the second came to an end. Homestead would concede two more goals in the third period with Jackson Bertels scoring a shorthanded empty net goal to finish things off.
MVP of the Rotation: Dylan Braun, Carroll
It seems like the last three games Braun really elevated his game in city action. I already discussed this a bit up in the Carroll section so the only thing I’ll add to my argument here is this: Braun was five points back of first after six games and six back after three. He is now one back. If he continues that pace and Carroll sorts out some of their deficiencies from before the break, watch out.
Game of the Rotation: Vipers vs Carroll, Week Seven
An easy choice here. While Carroll also needed extra time to survive Homestead, that game was only in doubt for about six minutes of game time. This one was much more tense throughout the game as Carroll never got the lead past one goal. For the record, this game is also the clubhouse leader for Game of the Year which we’ll unveil after the curtain closes on the Memorial Cup Final.
Fall Semester SCS All-City Team:
Forwards: Carter Gnau (Carroll), Jackson Bertels (Fort Wayne), Colin Robison (Leo)
As the league’s leading scorer it’s hard to leave Gnau off this list. Through nine games the Carroll captain has 15 points, 11 of those being assists. While it would be easier to pick Braun who has three more goals and is the flashier player, Gnau’s consistency is the determining factor here. The consistency argument is also what keeps Finn Cupp off this list, while he is 2nd in the league eight of his 14 points came in the first three games Gnau has been a more steady contributor. On a side note, with those three now separated by just a point we could have a terrific race for the scoring title in the next six games. For Bertels it’s an easy call to have him here. He leads his team in points and is the primary source of the Vipers offense, having 10 points on 16 Vipers goals. The only other player in the league that has contributed to more than 50% of their team’s goals is Daniel Martinsky of Homestead who gets an honorable mention here. For Robison this was another decision that took a minute to make. While Alex Hendricks is certainly in the conversation, I just feel that Robison brings a little more to the table. This could be a case of recency bias but when I think of Leo I think of Robison at the moment (aside from Baumert of course). Robison also scores more goals and has fewer penalty minutes which only helps him in this equation. Again Hendricks is right there and deserves an honorable mention, and one a side note don’t rule out either of these two for an underdog run at the scoring title, both the Lions are within three points of Gnau.
Defense: Michael Scully (Fort Wayne) and Davis Cline (Carroll)
I don’t think there’s too much to say here, these two made our All-City team last year and I haven’t seen anything to dissuade me from sticking to that through nine game this year. These two are still primarily offensive defenseman and do plenty to satisfy in their own zone as well.
Goalie: Luke Vanantwerp (Carroll)
I’ll admit that I had my questions entering this season about how Carroll’s goaltending would be this season after the departure of Carson Carteaux who was the main man in Carroll’s crease for a few years. Vanantwerp has definitely done his part in league play and the team’s crossover results serve as further proof that he’s the guy right now in net. Through nine game Vanantwerp has a 1.14 GAA which is ahead of what Carteaux finished with last year. Same goes for his save percentage which sits at 0.938 right now which is .026 ahead of Carteaux and leads all goalies this year by 0.014. The only strike against Vanantwerp is the lack of volume in saves despite playing seven of Carroll’s nine games but that’s not a factor that within his control.