This article can be found published on the ChesCo Hockey Haven‘s website.
WEST GOSHEN — Downingtown East may have started the season off with a 1-3 record, but things have been coming together for the Cougars since then.
After dropping a game to rival Downingtown West the day before Thanksgiving, the Cougars have gone 5-1-2 in Ches-Mont games, putting them fifth in the conference after a 4-4 tie with West Chester Henderson Friday night at Ice Line.
“They’ve put together a nice little string of league wins,” said D-East head coach Dave Hendricks. “They’re moving the puck better and more than they have in a long time and they’re finding players that they weren’t finding before. It’s real enjoyable to watch. The whole bench, the backup guys and the third and fourth line guys are giving us energy on the bench and on the ice and it’s great to see.”
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What has really stood out to Hendricks is the presence of his younger players on a consistent basis as the team progresses through the season.
“The right guys are starting to find each other,” he said. “You’re seeing younger guys just become grown men. Seeing (Joe) Kubachka, seeing (Collin) Harple and seeing (Jack) MaGee — all underclassmen playing and acting like seniors.”
And each of those three sophomores also contributed to the tie with a goal each, with the fourth coming from freshman Justin Cohn.
“We’re the youngest team in the league right now,” Hendricks said. “I think I only have three or four seniors and most of my key producers are sophomores. The fact that they just keep getting better and better and better is just great for our program and great for us in the league.”
Though D-East’s (6-4-2, 7-6-2) record can be misleading due to the season’s start, the Cougars have become a tough team to face for any opponent in the Ches-Mont, including Henderson (7-3-2, 8-5-2).
“They’ve gotten better and they played like it,” said Henderson head coach Scott DiRico. “And they’re very smart defensively, which was tough for us. We rebounded well and played really hard. There were a couple things here and there our defensemen and forwards missed on, but that happens every game with every team.”
The game was evenly matched between the conference opponents, with neither side gaining more than a one-goal lead at any time.
D-East, who jumped out to the lead within the first five minutes, had to battle back for the lead twice in the game.
“It seemed like it was a back-and-forth game,” Kubachka said. “We had a lead for a little bit. They came back and we had to come back again at the end.”
After allowing D-East to knot the game at 2 apiece early in the second, Henderson had a prime opportunity to take the lead once more with numerous shots on goaltender Jeff Cummings, but the sophomore was up to the task and made each save, including some left-handed larceny on Seth Lehman during a Henderson power play.
“We played a good team tonight,” DiRico said. “We probably should have scored more than we did. We had a lot of chances, but their goalie played well. Both teams fought and a tie was kind of appropriate with the way it was going. It was a fun game. They’ve improved a lot, so it was a good test.”
Trailing 4-3 with time winding down in the game, Downingtown East’s leading goal scorer, Kubachka, flew down the right wing and tied the game with 2:59 left.
“(The goal) was pretty good,” Kubachka said. “This is a big game in the standings and that tie can mean a lot.”
Though Hendricks would have preferred to see a win from his team, he can leave the rink happy with the no-quit spirit his players have.
“We were fighting for the lead in the beginning and we were fighting back for the lead again later — the key thing is they keep fighting,” he said. “At the end of the day, as long as they keep fighting, as long as they keep getting up, it doesn’t matter if you get knocked down or not.
“We’ll take what we can get. Sure, there’s part of me that’s disappointed because you get one point instead of two, but we’ll take whatever we can get.”