MARYLAND HEIGHTS — Francis Howell Central senior Benjamin Wuori didn’t celebrate early. It led to a much bigger celebration later.
Wuori’s third period goal snapped a 2-2 tie and lifted Howell Central to a 4-2 win over Duchesne in Game 1 of their Mid-States Club Hockey Association Wickenheiser Cup semifinal series at the Centene Community Ice Center on Friday night.
Game 2 of the best-of-three set will be next Friday night with a winner-take-all minigame if needed immediately after.
“Just going hard to the net,” Howell Central coach Mark Jones said. “They’ve got a real good goaltender and the only way to get to him is storm the net and get the dirty goals.”
Brett Robinson scored twice, Deacon Schmatt added another, and Carson Dahl made 27 saves for Howell Central (14-7-1).
Wuori’s goal with 5 minutes, 58 seconds remaining was his third overall and second game-winner of the postseason.
It came amid a furious scramble that saw several Spartans begin to lift their arms in celebration when they thought a Schmatt drive had given them the lead.
But the officials ruled it hit the crossbar. Wuori, though, was there for the rebound.
“Deacon shot it, he was in my line and it went over the goalie and it kind of floated off the crossbar,” Wuori said. “I saw it fall in front of the goalie and I chopped it in.”
The tally set off a furious celebration on the ice and on the Spartans’ bench.
Schmatt scored on a breakaway late to give Howell Central some insurance.
Tanner Freeman and Andrew Trupiano scored and Kyle Spann made 28 saves for Duchesne (8-11-3).
Both goalies shined in a scoreless first period.
Dahl got in front of a one-timer by Duchesne’s Tommy Dulle five minutes into the contest and Spann came way out of his crease for a diving poke check to thwart a would-be breakaway for Howell Central’s Braden Silver in the final minute of the period.
Freeman finally dented the scoreboard 35 seconds into the second period, tucking in a rebound off a Manuel Deltoro shot to give Duchesne a 1-0 lead.
“Keep putting pressure on, keep moving the puck around and get shots on net,” Wuori said. “Not let our shoulders hang after a goal gets in on us.”
After hitting the crossbar in the first and another post early in the second, Robinson finally found the range for Howell Central at the 5:08 mark of the second period. He picked the upper corner after a slick backhand-forehand combination to tie the game 1-1.
“I don’t care if it goes in, just make sure I get a shot,” said Robinson, who has 12 goals in seven postseason games. “It’s going to go in eventually.”
Robinson struck again late in the second, finding the puck amid a scramble in front of the net and poking it in with 14.3 seconds left to give the Spartans a 2-1 lead.
“He just keeps going,” Jones said. “If he hits the post, goalie makes a good save, misses high, he’s going to keep shooting. That’s why he has all the goals he has.”
Trupiano evened the game for Duchesne at 2:42 of the third with his fourth postseason goal.
Robinson knows the Pioneers won’t go down without a fight in Game 2.
“It feels amazing, especially senior my year,” Robinson said. “I want to end it on a good note and go all the way.”