By CHRIS DOBROWOLSKI firstname.lastname@example.org
Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Traverse City Central hoisted what it hopes is the first of a few trophies this season.
Central took the Jeff McCullough Memorial Challenge Cup on Wednesday night and put itself in the driver’s seat in the chase for the Big North Conference title by beating rival Traverse City West 4-1 at Howe Arena.
The McCullough Cup is annually awarded to the winner of the second matchup between Central and West and is in honor of former Central hockey player Jeff McCullough, who died of cancer in 1996.
“It’s a big game, Central-West is always a big one, but then with the McCullough Cup and everything Jeff meant to our team and still is a big part of it today, this is one that’s just got a little extra emotion to it for us,” said Central head coach Chris Givens. “With the other stuff that was on the line, trying to stay in the hunt for the conference title, this is a big win.”
Central’s top line of Alex Oliver, Cam Givens and Parker Hebden accounted for all of the Trojans’ scoring, with Oliver notching two goals and an assist, and Givens and Hebden each contributing a goal and two assists.
“It was my last one (Central-West game),” said Cam Givens. “I wanted it, for not just our team, but for Jeff. I know he was here in some form so it was nice to get the win and finish for our seniors. (West) played hard. We knew they weren’t going to back down. It was good to see our team play a full three periods. Just a lot of emotion right now.”
Oliver’s goals came less than two minutes apart late in the first period and quickly turned a 1-1 tie into Central’s favor. The first of those two scores came within a minute after West’s Nick Schultz scored off a rebound. Hebden’s score put the Trojans ahead 1-0 at the 7:44 mark of the first period. Givens capped off the scoring with a short-handed score with three minutes to play.
“They scored the first one, our guys regrouped and tied it up, then two giveaways and they go up 3-1 and our guys panicked a little bit,” said West head coach Jeremy Rintala. “It took us until halfway through the second to recover from that. Then I thought we played fine after that. We just had to find a way to get a few more pucks to the net and a little more traffic.”
After getting rattled by Central’s two quick goals late in the first, West hit its stride again in the last half of the second period and put good pressure on Central but just couldn’t generate any offense.
“I give West a lot of credit, they played hard tonight, especially in the last 6-7 minute stretch of the second period,” said Chris Givens. “They were really coming hard. They’re tough to play against when they’re skating that way. I told the kids after the second period that we were lucky to get out of there still in the lead. They had some good chances and were really pushing hard.”
The third period was a physical and hard-hitting period where the two teams combined for 12 penalty minutes, double the number that had been accrued in the first two periods.
Joe Videki and Rhys Adle also had assists for Central. Jacob Benker and Greg Brandt assisted on West’s lone goal.
Darrell Carlisle made 13 saves in goal for the Trojans (11-6-1, 6-1-1 Big North), while Brendan Lacharite made 34 saves for the Titans (8-11, 5-2).
The Trojans face Gaylord twice to close out their league slate. While Chris Givens wasn’t ready to anoint his team as league champs yet — it would be the Trojans third straight league crown — he likes the position they’re in with the season winding down.
“There’s a lot of hockey to be played. Just to be able to kind of control your own destiny if you keep winning is better than looking at it saying, ‘well, we have to win, plus we need this to happen and that to happen.’ It was good from that standpoint.”
Cam Givens said the Trojans are only looking toward Saturday’s meeting against the Bay Reps.
“You’ve got to make sure when you come back you don’t have the big game hangover,” he said. “You don’t want to come out and be flat because of what happened a few days (before).”