KENT — According to Andy Williams, "It’s the most wonderful time of the year."
It’s a time to enjoy your family’s company. It also features a fair share of tasty food.
There are plenty of ornaments and a rather decorative free too. And best of all, there are lots and lots of gifts.
As for Mike McNeil, pardon him if he’s a bit Grinchy. That’s because he doesn’t particularly care too much for the holidays.
Not if it interferes with sticks and a puck, at least.
On Saturday, the members of the Hudson ice hockey team may have had a few too many cookies, along with way too much stuffing and cranberry sauce.
In the end, they still provided the one gift their first-year coach wanted most from Santa.
A victory against a division rival.
The host Explorers improved to 9-7-1 overall and 3-2-1 in the Greater Cleveland High School Hockey League Red Division after earning a 3-1 victory over Cleveland Benedictine. The contest took place at Kent State University Ice Arena.
With the loss, the Bengals dropped to 8-8 overall and 1-3 in the division.
For awhile, Benedictine thwarted Hudson’s potent but recently slumping offense. The Explorers, who lost a convincing 6-0 decision to host Mentor Friday at the Mentor Civic Center, couldn’t solve Michael Pelac.
The Bengals’ goaltender stopped shot after shot, including many attempts from point-blank range during the first two periods.
"Coming off a break is difficult," McNeill said. "We hadn’t played a game in almost two weeks. You come back against Mentor, it’s a bad feeling. You have to come back the next day and you have to pick yourself up and get back to work."
Easier said than done.
Thanks to a goal by Andrew Bernard with a little less than eight minutes left in the second period, Benedictine had a 1-0 lead.
Bernard’s goal was a power-play tally as Hudson’s stick-handlers had a problem keeping their hands to themselves. The Explorers committed six of their eight penalties in the first two periods, including four in the second period. In fact, the Bengals had two stretches where they had a five-on-three advantage.
"You’re going to have bad periods; you’re going to have bad times," McNeill said. "That’s what we stressed between the second and third periods is to just keep working through it.
"Up until that point, we had no goals in five periods. We were snakebitten a little bit. When you get one, you get a couple."
Or a triple.
Fortunately, Hudson continued attacking despite its plethora of infractions.
And the Explorers’ aggressiveness paid off when it mattered most. It didn’t hurt that the Benedictine players had a knack for staying a little too long in not particularly splendid hotel. This particular lodge had plenty of blue and white guests too.
That would be the penalty box.
Hudson scored three power-play goals in a span of a little more than six minutes. Alec Dickens struck first less than four minutes into the third period. Sully Clark and Luke Karnofel were credited with the assists. Less than 30 seconds later, the Explorers, who couldn’t buy a goal for the last 78-plus minutes of game action, found the net once again when Clark scored. Karnofel and Ty Koerbel were credited with the assists.
Karnofel’s younger brother did the honors nearly six minutes later. Jonah Karnofel, a defenseman, made it 3-1 when his slap shot found the left corner of the net.
The Explorers still had some adversity to overcome, thanks to — surprise — penalties.
Once again, the Bengals had a five-on-three advantage late in the match. Benedictine scored its only goal when it had two extra skaters on the ice. Therefore, Hudson was in a vulnerable position.
It seemed that way, at least.
The Explorers wound up killing off the penalty to preserve the win.
"You have to be disciplined, stay in position and make the rink small," McNeill said. "I thought we did a good job at the end. We didn’t do such a good job in the first half."
Clark added another assist and Dickens also had an assist. Hudson goaltender Nick Tomasulo stopped 16 of 17 shots and Pelac made 30 saves.
Against the Cardinals, the wheels came off after the first 15 minutes of play.
"They got a power-play goal and we kind of fell apart after that," McNeill said. "They’re 19-1-1. They’re beating everybody."
Now that the Explorers are back in the swing of things, McNeill is glad that there will be no more "parties for hosting" or "marshmallows for toasting."
For Hudson’s first-year leader, the time after the holidays is his "hap-happiest season of all."
"I think we’re still playing good hockey," McNeill said. "We have to get back to work coming off a break. Right now, we’re shaking the rest off a bit. We got a full week of practice this week and we’ll get back to work."
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FrankAceto_RPC.