Don Jennings did not have the look of a coach whose team had just lost a hard-fought game Thursday.
Jennings knows where his Newark Generals are in what he termed a “rebuilding phase,” and they already have skipped a few steps less than a month into the season. The Generals fell 4-3 to the visiting Westerville Warcats at Lou and Gib Reese Ice Arena in Greater Columbus High School Club Hockey League action.
“The bottom line is this is an established team,” Jennings said. “(Westerville) has been together for two or three years. I could not be prouder with the way our kids are stepping up. It was anybody’s game.”
Newark had an early 2-0 lead, but it did not stand up against Westerville’s wide-open attack. The Warcats beat Hilliard 5-3 on Sunday after the Generals had tied the Wildcats 1-1, so Newark expected a high-scoring affair.
Westerville (3-0-2) scored four consecutive goals to put Newark (2-2-2, 1-2-2) in an early third-period hole. The Generals, however, stayed alive thanks to a pair of sophomores as Troy Peek scored off Tyler Salyer’s pass from behind the net with 10:23 left in the game.
“Getting a third-line goal, they are grinders out there every shift,” senior defenseman Nathan Fowler said. “They don’t get many goals, so when they do, it really brings the whole team up. I wish we could have pulled out a couple more third-line goals.”
Newark had its share of opportunities down the stretch. Cullen Blaney had an aggressive shift with a pair of point-blank shots midway through the third, and the Generals were unable to convert a power play with 2:53 left.
“They assumed they were just going to plow right through us and kill us, and we were holding them back,” Jennings said. “We had some great performances. We played them right to the last whistle, and that is all I can ask for.”
Newark got off to a fast start, and it was no surprise who led the way. Taylor Blome scored on a one-timer off a cross-ice pass from Levi Beckholt less than five minutes in.
Beckholt’s unassisted goal gave the Generals their two-goal lead with 5:32 left in the first period. Westerville, however, scored seven seconds later to shift momentum. The Warcats tied the game late in the first and took the lead in the second on a shorthanded goal.
“Westerville is a really old team, and we are building,” Fowler said. “We were rough at the beginning of last season, too. It is looking up from here. It only can go up. We definitely have to keep in mind all of that stuff, and like coach said, we had a great game out there.”
With only three seniors, developmental time early in the season is key. Newark has two full weeks off before the PRPC Prowlers visit Dec. 5. With just a trip to Dayton on Sunday and the Thanksgiving holiday in between, Jennings will have some valuable teaching time available.
“A lot of things we discuss before they go onto the ice they are able to put into play,” Jennings said. “We talk about forecheck, we talk about backcheck, we talk about clearing out from in front of the net. There are any number of things we go over before a game, and it doesn’t seem like they dropped the ball on any of them.”