KENT — The Hudson ice hockey team is blessed with exceptional depth.
Western Reserve Academy, on the other hand, is not.
On top of that, the Pioneers recently lost their starting goaltender and then saw one of their best offensive players leave the ice before they got their feet wet.
It all added up to a convincing win for the talented Explorers.
Hudson cruised to a 7-1 victory over its backyard rival in the Rough Rider Holiday Ice Hockey Tournament Thursday at Kent State University Ice Arena.
With the win, the Explorers improved to 7-4-1. Snakebitten Reserve, already lacking bodies in the first place, dropped to 0-9.
Hudson’s win ended a two-game losing streak. The Explorers suffered a heartbreaking to 2-1 loss to Shaker Heights in double overtime and a 5-1 defeat to Rocky River prior to their victory over WRA.
"It was a great game," Hudson first-year head coach Mike McNeill said of the loss to the Red Raiders. "That’s one of the Great Lakes teams and for us to be able to compete with them, it was great.
"We did have a little bit of a letdown in the third period against Rocky River. You’re going to have that from time to time, but we’re playing good hockey right now. This team is playing very hard."
Things started off rather inauspiciously for both teams.
The Explorers were called for a five-minute major just 20 seconds into the game. Let’s just say the Pioneers probably didn’t feel too sorry for their next-door neighbor.
That’s because Reserve got the worst of Hudson’s penalty as sophomore forward Ian Richardson injured his arm on the play and did not return.
If that wasn’t challenging enough, Reserve also was missing sophomore goaltender Adam Goad, who did not dress because of a leg injury.
"We’re thin," WRA head coach Brand Closen said. "We don’t have a lot of bodies. Now you lose Ian, who is probably our fastest skater. It changed things up to have Ian out."
Despite this excessive adversity, the Pioneers actually struck first. Senior forward Jad Darwiche scored nearly two minutes into the game when he flicked the puck into the net from close range.
"It was definitely a wake-up call," McNeill said with a smile.
It was all Explorers after that, even though it took some time for them to solve Reserve backup goalie senior Noah Goad.
The older Goad, who usually plays forward, made 38 heroic saves despite facing Hudson’s plethora of playmakers who attacked relentlessly throughout the evening.
Despite the onslaught of shots, Noah Goad held his own — for awhile at least.
Other than a long left-handed goal by senior defenseman Nicholas Dibiasio, Noah Goad somehow managed to make save after save. The game was tied at 1-1 after the first period despite the Explorers having an 11-1 advantage in shots on goal.
"Noah was a goalie his freshman year and then we had other goalies in the program," Closen said. "He made a choice and said he would skate out for us. We put him back in net [Wednesday]. It was the first time he had taken shots in two years. I thought he played great."
Unfortunately for WRA, its near defensive invincibility suffered a few cracks after the first 15 minutes.
The momentum landed completely on Hudson’s lap just 14 seconds into the second period.
That’s when freshman forward Mack Clark scored the first of his game-high three goals off an assist from senior forward Luke Karnofel.
"I thought we did well," Closen said. "The quick goal in the second was a backbreaker. We were outmatched, outgunned."
The Explorers only built their advantage from there.
Karnofel added goal No. 2 about two minutes later and then sophomore forward Alec Dickens made it 4-1 late in the period.
From there, Hudson put the match completely out of reach in a matter of minutes in the final period.
Thanks to goals by freshman forward Patrick Downing, Clark and senior Matt Hannon in less than two minutes, the Explorers turned the game into a rout.
Freshman forward Ty Koerbel finished with three assists and Karnofel had two assists for Hudson.
"He’s really finding his game this year," McNeill said of Karnofel. "I think he just learned that he has some skill to him. He’s feeling it out and doing really well.
"Ty has been a big surprise. Mack has really stepped up and come a long way."
Dickens, Downing, senior defensemen Alex Cole and Matthew Roberts and sophomore forward Wyatt Prado each had one assist.
Hudson goaltender Nick Tomasulo made one save.
"Hudson has a lot of speed and is a quality team," Closen said. "They catch kids from behind. Jad got caught three or four times. We hit the gap and they get people on him from the back side and that takes all the pressure off the defensemen."
As for the Explorers, they have been playing at a high level throughout the season, according to their coach.
Yes, there have been a few losses, but Hudson, despite not having a junior varsity team, has held its own against some quality programs throughout the state.
"I’m happy," McNeill said. "Other than one letdown against Amherst [a 3-2 loss earlier in the month], we’re winning every game we should be winning and were in all the others. One of the things I noticed is a lot of our losses are to teams that have [JV] teams. I think that’s a big help."
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FrankAceto_RPC.