After jumping out to a 3-0 lead before five minutes had been played, the Ashland High hockey team went on to allow South Medford to score seven unanswered goals and ultimately pull out an 8-6 win Wednesday night at The RRRink.
The loss drops the Grizzlies' season record to 3-2 heading into a rematch Saturday with Klamath Falls, which dealt Ashland its first loss of the season one week ago.
For the first 4:25 of the game, the Grizzlies could do no wrong. Two and a half minutes in, team point leading junior Casey Skolnik got things started with a pinpoint pass to captain Stephan McLaughlin who slapped a one-timer under South goalie John Adamson's blocker.
Nineteen seconds later, Ashland senior Cory Hultz found the net on a pass from freshman Sam Taylor. In the blink of an eye, the Grizzlies led 2-0.
Less than two minutes later, Skolnik won a faceoff at his own blue line and took off toward Adamson. Weaving through multiple defenders, beating the last between his legs, Skolnik slipped the puck inside the right post to boost Ashland's early lead to three.
It seemed Ashland would walk away with a blowout. South Medford took a time out and everything changed.
Just over a minute later, South Medford junior Wyatt Small intercepted a pass in his defensive zone between Ashland defenders. Small out-skated the chasing Grizzlies and beat Ashland goalie Kyle Smelcer on the breakaway.
The Panthers scored a power play goal with 5:34 left in the first period when freshman Dane Irving banged home a loose rebound after a shot by Small.
A high sticking penalty by Andrew Cataldo and a roughing penalty on Skolnik left the Panthers with a 5-on-3 man advantage and they cashed in to tie the game with 1:14 left in the first. Junior Samantha Andrews did the damage, sending a one-timer from Small to the back of the net.
Only 10 minutes removed from a 3-0 lead, Ashland found itself locked in a3-3 tie entering the second period. Ashland coach Chris Bonelli said he felt his team let up when they nabbed the early lead.
"I think our team just went back on its heels and felt like they were going to take this thing away," Bonelli said. "I think they felt like they were going to run this like they did North (Medford) and it didn't happen. We basically started playing sloppy."
The Panther rally continued when Irving tallied an unassisted short-handed score for his second goal of the night 2:31 into the second period. Irving won the draw outside of Ashland's blue line and drove to the net alone and cranked a wrist shot under Smelcer's glove, giving South a 4-3 lead.
Irving scored short-handed again with 6:55 left in the stanza for the hat trick. This time he forced a turnover in the Grizzlies' defensive end and sent a wrist shot to Smelcer who hit the puck with his glove, but couldn't stop it from trickling in the net to put Ashland behind 5-3.
South Medford had all the momentum and Ashland couldn't mount any offensive pressure as the period wore on.
With a minute left in the second, Ashland found the back of the net, but the goal was waived off due to an early whistle by a referee.
The Panthers responded to the close call right away, scoring their sixth straight goal with 42 seconds left in the period. An Ashland defender tripped, allowing Irving and Small to break in on a 2-on-1. Irving found Small with a crossing pass which he snuck over Smelcer's blocker.
South had a 6-3 lead through two periods and Smelcer's night in goal was over after facing 28 shots.
The Panthers beat back-up goalie Gabe Dean with their third short-handed goal of the night less than two minutes into the third period when Small drove into the offensive zone and duped Dean low to the stick side for his second tally of the night.
After a scoring drought that lasted more than 28 minutes, the Grizzlies showed a sign of life when Stephan McLaughlin drove coast-to-coast and beat Adamson's blocker with two Panthers hanging off his back.
South's Small scored his third of the night minutes later when he beat Dean's glove and snuffed out Ashland's comeback hopes.
Behind 8-4 late, the Grizzlies showed a sense of urgency and Skolnik managed a pair of late goals. One was on a power play when he redirected a McLaughlin shot to the bottom of the crossbar. The other was scored after a pass from the corner by Lewis Sebrell. It was too little too late.
South out-shot the Grizzlies 35-25, including 28-12 through two periods. Panthers Small and Irving each notched five points on three goals and two assists. Ashland's McLaughlin and Skolnik each finished with two goals and an assist. The Grizzlies were 2-for-7 on the power play and allowed the Panthers three short-handed goals.
McLaughlin said his team got too comfortable with their early lead.
"We relaxed a little bit too much," McLaughlin said. "We started playing defensively instead of offensively. They just brought a better game."
Skolnik is eager to move past the loss and get to Saturday's rematch with Klamath Falls, which beat Ashland 5-3 on Dec. 5.
"I definitely want a rematch against them," Skolnik said. "They're a good team. They've got quite a few good players. So we've just got to play our game and come out fast and strong and keep playing the whole game. Not slow down like we did here."
Panthers claw Grizzlies