SOUTHPOINTE – Anthony Tonkovich was talking about how Butler goaltender Logan Rothbauer made several quality saves to keep his hockey team in Monday’s PIHL Class AAA Penguins Cup first-round game against Canon-McMillan when Big Macs goaltender Ryan Christian began to smile.
Christian thought Tonkovich, the team’s captain, was talking about him and started to nod in approval.
“You played good, too,” Tonkovich teased.
Seemed this was the only time Christian was out of place.
Otherwise, the goalie stopped all 20 shots Butler threw at him at Southpointe Iceoplex, and the Big Macs scored early in the first and second periods en route to a 3-0 win.
“It’s playoff hockey,” said Christian, who ran his record to 10-6-4 while earning his third shutout of the season. “Everyone says it’s just another game, but the mentality is so much different, so much more intense. It’s better hockey.”
In theory, anyway.
The win was choppy at times – Canon-Mac thumped Butler, 8-0, on Feb. 25, yet allowed this one to remain close – but it nonetheless vaults the Big Macs (12-6-4) into the Class AAA quarterfinals Wednesday.
Seventh-seeded Canon-Mac’s opponent will be determined after two more first-round games tonight.
“Ugly win, but a win’s a win,” said Anthony Tonkovich’s brother, Austin, who opened the scoring 16 seconds into the game by burying a feed from Anthony in the high slot. “Gotta forget this one and move on to the next one.”
Rothbauer wound up making 45 saves, a number representative of Canon-McMillan’s dominance when it came to puck possession.
Then again, that was the plan, according to Butler coach Michael Guentner.
“We knew we were mismatched,” Guentner said. “I think the biggest thing coming into this game was having the realization that we might be out-skilled, and we might be short bodies. We wanted to have a game plan where we accept the fact that we lost the shot battle but limit the quality of those shots.”
Guentner had his team ignore battles in the corners early on and stay packed around Rothbauer. The strategy worked for a while, though James Oddi gave the Big Macs a 2-0 edge 59 seconds into the second period with a goal scored around the crease.
After Rothbauer stopped the initial attempt with his pad, Oddi’s second whack at the puck from the left of the crease snuck in.
Christian made that stand up with a pad save to thwart Troy Double’s breakaway and a glove save to rob Tanner Gilliland, both in the second period.
“Definitely felt like I did more this game,” Christian said, comparing Monday’s win to the 8-0 route. “Maybe not more shots, but I felt like I had more work.”
Colman Slain got the Big Macs’ final goal when he scored on the power play at 10:16 of the third period, the team’s only chance of the game with a man advantage.
Canon-McMillan killed two penalties early, then three in the final 2:58, including a six-on-three advantage for Butler that covered the final 52 seconds.
“Penalty kill is always a big factor,” Anthony Tonkovich said. “You want to minimize opportunities for them to score every shift.”
Of course, in this one, a big part of that was also the play of Ryan Christian.