KENT -- The battle of Hudson was about different things this time around for the Hudson and Western Reserve Academy ice hockey teams.

For the Pioneers, it was about showing some pride against its backyard rival.

For the Explorers, it was about taking another step toward the Greater Cleveland High School Hockey League's Red North Division title.

Suffice it to say, Hudson is now 45 minutes from claiming that title.

The Explorers showed off their team speed, as a hat trick from senior center Max Cole led Hudson to a 7-3 win over the Pioneers Jan. 27 at Kent State University Ice Arena.

Hudson improved to 21-4-1 overall and and 8-1 in the Red North Division, while Reserve, which also lost to Shaker Heights 3-0 Jan. 28 at Kent State, fell to 6-14 overall and 0-9 in the Red North.

For the Explorers, all eyes now turn to the Hudson's showdown with Rocky River Feb. 4 at 1:50 p.m. at Kent State. A victory would insure the outright Red North title.

Hudson head coach Caleb Wyse said he was a bit wary of a letdown heading into the game.

"After the big weekend last week, our guys needed to not let down," he said. "It was probably a good thing we didn't play Rocky River [Jan. 27]. Now, we've got the rest of the weekend off and a full week of practice to get ready. It's going to be a big one."

WRA coach Brand Closen said his team's effort was there, but the Explorers simply had too much firepower.

"Overall, I thought we played with heart," Closen said. "They're the No. 1 team in the division for a reason. We're outmanned. They've got more bodies and they've got more speed. We did a good job taking advantage of their mistakes. They stopped making mistakes and we struggled."

One of Hudson's mistakes gave the Pioneers the perfect start to the game.

An Explorer pass in its own defensive zone went right to Pioneers' captain Brett Erskine, who skated in on net and put it home with a backhand shot at the 13-minute, 15-seconds mark of the first period.

However, Hudson had a quick answer. Cole unleashed a slap shot from the blue line, putting it off the crossbar and in with 10:55 left in the first.

It was the start of a big night for Cole, who also scored the Explorers' lone power-play goal of the evening with 1:06 left in the first. Cole finished with three goals and an assist.

"I can't keep up," Wyse said, when asked how many hat tricks Cole had this season. "He has gotten hot for us and I hope he stays that way."

"Cole is the best player in the league," Closen said. "He makes great decisions with the puck. He has great speed and he has that huge slap shot."

Hudson took the lead at 8:13 of the first period, thanks to another speedy forward. Senior Chandler Kotseos burst down the right side of the ice and beat Reserve goalie Noah Goad with a backhand shot to make it 2-1.

Kotseos also had good night with two goals and two assists.

However, WRA cut the Explorers' lead to 3-2 after one period, thanks to a goal from Jad Darwiche with 55 second left in the first.

Hudson took command of the contest in the second period, thanks to goals from Kotseos (12:13, assist to Luke Karnofel) and Brady Ludewig (8:27, unassisted).

But the Pioneers had a chance when Erskine was tripped from behind heading into the net with 58 seconds left in the second. Erskine took the penalty shot himself, but put his shot wide of the cage.

"He's beating himself up for that," Closen said.

"We can't afford to make defensive mistakes like that," Wyse said.

Up 5-2 after two periods, the Explorers added another less than a minute into the third. A slap shot from Hudson defenseman Blake Lori was deflected into the net by junior forward Alex Nawn with 14:11 left in the game.

Hudson's final goal of the game was pretty, as Cole and Kotseos worked a perfect passing sequence through the WRA defense. Cole ended up with an empty net in front of him and he put it home with 9:36 left in the game.

Reserve found a quick response again, as a goal from Tommy Wagner with 8:36 left made it 7-3, but WRA got no closer.

The Explorers finished with a 37-21 edge in shots, as Goad had 30 saves. Hudson goalie Stroud Corr finished with 18 saves.

Against Shaker, WRA stayed with the perennial powerhouse until the final period.

The Red Raiders scored all of their goals in the last 12 minutes of the game. Pioneers' goaltender Nate Hopkins made 39 saves.

Reserve is scheduled to close out its regular season against Rocky River Feb. 3 at Hamilton Ice Arena.

Play is set to begin at 5:30 p.m.

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