KENT -- The Hudson ice hockey team made history prior to its district quarterfinal game against Bainbridge Township Kenston.
The Explorers already set a school record for wins in a season as they headed to Kent State University Ice Arena Feb. 21.
But Hudson was looking for more history. That would be the program's first berth in the Kent district title game.
The Explorers stood just 45 minutes from that lofty goal, but they had to fight to get there.
Fourth-seeded Hudson defeated the sixth-seeded Bombers 4-2 to advance to the district semifinals. With the win, the Explorers (24-6-1) were scheduled to face defending state runner-up University (Hunting Valley) Feb. 25. The top-seeded Preppers advanced with an 8-0 victory over Theodore Roosevelt (Kent). Results of the Feb. 25 game were not available at press time.
Hudson won three of its four meetings with Kenston, which finished 13-14-2. Explorers' second-year head coach Caleb Wyse knew his team was in for a battle.
"We knew they were a better team than the one we beat 8-1 [last month]," Wyse said. "We don't want easy games like the one we had against Orange [9-0 win Feb. 18]. Anyone who is competitive wants to play tough games."
The Bombers came out very competitive, as Kenston had a 10-8 lead in shots on goal in the first period. The Bombers looked to slow down Hudson's speed game by posting its defenders on the blue line and poke-check whenever possible.
Kenston also had the only power play of the first period when Hudson was called for a two-minute penalty for head contact with 4 minutes, 56 seconds left in the first.
However, the Explorers pounced on a Bomber turnover a few seconds later. Forward Erik Halford stole the puck and passed to Colin Dickens, who shot it home with 4:32 left in the first. The short-handed tally made it 1-0 after one period.
"We press on our penalty kill," Wyse said. "When you press the defense, you're going to make mistakes. That was a rare error by their defense."
Unfortunately for the Explorers, their penalty issues caught up with them in the second period.
After some sustained pressure in front of the net, Kenston tied the game with 5:05 left in the second period when Mitchel Pozwick put home a rebound from point-blank range.
Bombers' goaltender Jason Hildebrand made a bevy of quality saves, including a variety of one-on-one stops. Hildebrand finished with 26 saves.
However, Hudson goaltender Stroud Corr was just as solid. He finished with 36 saves as the Bombers finished with a 38-30 edge in shots on goal.
With the score tied 1-1 at the second intermission, Wyse told his team to "just relax" and keep working on offense.
After being shut out during the first two periods, the Explorers' top scoring duo got to work in the third.
Forward Chandler Kotseos slid a puck to forward Max Cole, who finally got loose along the boards and slid the puck through Hildebrand's five hole to make it 2-1 with 13:35 left in the game.
"I had been using my slap shot," Cole said. "They were looking for that, so I dipped my shoulder and took it wide."
Although it was hit with a 10-minute misconduct penalty, Hudson kept coming.
With 7:23 left, Kotseos was denied on by Hildebrand's pads, but Cole got to the loose puck in the crease and poked it home, making it 3-1.
To its credit, Kenston didn't give up. The Bombers cut the lead to 3-2 with 4:19 left when Cole Lombardi scored from a tight angle.
But Kotseos put the game beyond doubt with a brilliant move along the boards.
After collecting a pass from defenseman Blake Lori, Kotseos passed the puck off the boards to himself, beat his defender and put the puck past Hildebrand, making it 4-2 with 1:13 left in the game.
Both Wyse and Cole said they were ready for the game with US.
"They're very well coached and they've got some some good players," Wyse said. "We've got players, too, though. This is reason we wanted this half of the bracket."
"It would be huge for us," Cole added. "We've never been that far before."