It was "one of those nights" for the Newark Generals on Thursday, something fans who regularly pack the Lou and Gib Reese Ice Arena aren't used to seeing.
Visiting Hilliard, which lost to Newark in last year's Greater Columbus High School Club Hockey League finals, reeled off five consecutive goals to stun the Generals, 7-2. But it hardly was panic time for defending state champion Newark (3-1, 2-1), which usually isn't playing its best hockey in November.
"There's a lot of games in a season, and when we come back on Saturday, it will be a brand new game," said senior defender Ben Baldwin, one of 10 players back from the state championship team. "Sometimes, you have nights when things aren't clicking. We won't let it define us and we'll bounce back. We will build off of this."
"We have a lot of young guys, and when we won our first three games, they might have been thinking, 'Hey, we're going to be undefeated,'" assistant coach Kyle Thomas said. "It's not going to happen. Hockey is too competitive. We get everyone's best shot, without a doubt."
The Wildcats (5-2) were the top-seed in last year's GCHSCHL tournament, but lost in overtime and then by one goal in the championship game to Newark. They came in motivated and with a lot of energy.
After Hilliard scored just six minutes in, the Generals answered barely a minute later when Jake Hoffmann slotted a pass ahead to Ben Dickson, who beat the goalie one-on-one for a 1-1 tie. The Wildcats took a 2-1 lead into the second period, but back came Newark again when Drew Stewart checked a Hilliard player hard into the boards behind the goal and whipped a pass out front to Chase Cherubini, who rammed it home for a 2-2 tie.
The game turned late in the second period when the Wildcats scored two goals within a four-minute span, opening a 4-2 lead. Kyle Majher, who notched a hat trick and added an assist, scored a short-handed goal less than a minute into the third period, then found the net again with 11:47 left to all but decide the outcome as Newark grew increasingly frustrated.
"It seemed like we were skating in quicksand," Thomas said. "The harder we worked, the worse it got."
The Generals played three freshmen and two sophomores, and they found out what a league rivalry is all about.
"Traditionally, (Hilliard is) a great team, and half of our team had never played against them before," coach Don Jennings said. "We'll learn from this. We had terrific shifts from everyone on the bench, but we also had mistakes by everyone on the bench. We gave up a lot of soft goals, which is very uncharacteristic of us. We normally make teams work for everything."
"Hopefully, now our younger guys understand how much effort it takes to compete in this league," Thomas said.
As the season wears on, the Generals usually get better. The 2009 state championship team started 5-5, and it may take some time with this team.
"We want to be playing our best hockey in March," Baldwin said. "It will take some more reps, but we'll gel together."