North Andover, MA- Mike Doherty scored twice to help lead the Northern Division to a 5-2 win in the 20th Annual EJHL All-Star Classic today at Merrimack College.
Both teams flew out of the gate with fast skating and strong defense, with both teams blocking countless shots and goaltenders Sean Lawrence (10 saves) and Chris Funkey (8 saves) stifling the forwards.
Haralds Egle gave the North the lead 11:46 into the game when Kevin Duane blasted a shot and he banged home the rebound.
The North extended the lead to 2-0 four minutes later. Chris Izmirlian skated down the left wing and dished the puck to Conor MacPhee, who ripped a shot from the top of the slot. Funkey made the save, but Doherty knocked in the rebound.
“Lawrence played great for the North,” commented South coach Toby Harris. “We had four or five great scoring chances, but he shut the door on each of them.”
The South got on the board three minutes into the second period. Tim Clifton set Josh Henke up in the corner and Henke passed the puck to Jason Stephanik at the top of the slot. Stephanik blasted a shot from the point that eluded North goaltender Colton Phinney.
John Jackson restored the two-goal lead for the North late in the period. Paul Russell sent a pass to Joona Kunnas at the point. Kunnas then fired at the net, but Halford knocked it away, only for Jackson to score on the rebound.
Jackson nearly scored again off the ensuing faceoff, but this time Halford proved equal to the task.
With thirty seconds remaining, Trevor Owens sent a breakout pass to Josh Henke, who brought it up the middle, toe-dragged around a defenseman, and poked it past Phinney, who finished the period with 11 saves. Halford turned away 10 shots for the South.
Evan Schultz and Paul Russell made it 4-2 with a power play goal 5:27 into the final frame. Schultz brought it up to the blue line and left a short pass for Russell, who flew into the zone and backhanded it through goaltender Linus Lundin’s legs.
Doherty picked up his second goal of the game with 8:35 on the clock. Conor MacPhee set up Chris Izmirlian along the left boards. Izmirlian then sent a cross-ice pass to Doherty on the right boards. Doherty executed a perfect one-timer from the right side and shot the puck top-shelf.
Lundin and Jake Soffer, his North counterpart, were kept busy by the skaters throughout the remainder of the game, but neither team could put one past either goaltender. Soffer stopped all eight shots he faced while Lundin turned away ten in the period.
“This was probably the best contested All-Star Game in the past ten years,” noted Harris. “It had good speed, a good compete level, the goaltenders played great. It reminded me more of a playoff game than an All-Star Game.”
North coach Sean Tremblay concurred. “There are some great rivalries in the EJHL and they don’t get put aside for the All-Star Game. There were a lot of great battles fought today. These guys had a lot at stake, they knew they had something to play for, and they all picked it up and put on a show,” he said.
“Everyone performed well, and it was great to have that high-quality a game when you have so many scouts under one roof,” Harris claimed. “It was hard to pick a player who stood out. They all stood out today.”
“Mike Doherty and his linemates [Chris Izmirlian and Conor MacPhee] produced two goals, and Paul Russell stood out because of his speed, but everybody brought it today,” recalled Tremblay. “Every player who appeared in this game belonged out there.
“The event went really well,” Tremblay continued. “Many thanks are due to Merrimack College and [head coach] Mark Dennehy for hosting us this weekend. They all did a great job and put on a first-class event.”
(Nathan can be reached at email@example.com)