EULESS – Hamburgers and French fries. Chips and salsa. Trent Newman’s offense and swarming Midlothian defense. What do they all have in common? Perfect combinations.
Newman scored two of the team’s four goals early and the Panthers held Highland Park to just four shots on goal through the first two periods before picking up a 4-1 win over the East Division leading Scots.
“We’ve been playing well lately as a team and I got a lot of assists given to me today but I’ve been giving a lot lately so it’s nice to give and get back,” Newman said. “It’s kind of good to show everyone, that’s supposed to be the No. 1 team in the other division”
The Panthers (11-5-1) capitalized on Highland Park’s mistakes early as Newman scored a powerplay goal at the 5:49 mark off assists by McClain Williamson and Joseph Dancy. Exactly one minute later, Dancy made it 2-0 off a Williamson assist during a powerplay.
Newman and Williamson hooked up again at the 6:11 mark of the second period to extend the lead to 3-0 as the Panther offense was feeding off its defense.
The Scots were held without a shot on net for the first 17:25 of the game and only had four shots on goal at the end of the first period. Assistant coach and defensive guru Cliff Parker called the concerted effort to prevent good shoots the result of practice time and refocused efforts.
“(Head) coach (Ryan) Pfeffier came out and really wanted to focus on the 3-on-3 down low this week and really getting the players focused on staying goal side, never over-committing, never over-doing anything and the first two periods the boys came out and put up a really good defensive game, which opens up the offense,” Parker said.
With his teammates preventing good shots in front of him, goalie Conner Graham had little to do in net for the Panthers early on. But as the defense wore down, Graham stepped up.
In the fourth period, Highland Park battled back from its putrid early offense to attack the Panther net, firing off 10 shots.
Graham stood tall, allowing just one goal early in the third period but responded to shut down the Scots the rest of the way. Seeing such few shots at the start of the game made the late defense a bit of a challenge. Graham was happy to pick his teammates up after the effort they had given him.
“All the guys were pretty gassed (in the third) because we only had 12. It was kind of a surprise to me honestly from going from five shots up until then to getting several more,” Graham said. “I’d kind of gotten complacent almost. But it was kind of nice to be able to pull it out.”
With four games left in the regular season, Midlothian still has ground to gain in the standings but has key games on the schedule that will help its playoff push.
A matchup against fellow West Division member Arlington Wild starts the final surge before playing West leader Keller. A final East Division battle with Garland will help the overall record but the playoffs could come down to a game with Mansfield in the regular season finale. The Tigers sit one game ahead of Midlothian in the West Division standings at 12-4-1.
“We’ve been beating a lot of teams but people don’t think Midlothian hockey is really much. Impossible is nothing,” Newman said.