The Keene High boys hockey team, minus its leading scorer and senior captain Zach Mooers, plus other key players, fell to Manchester Memorial on Saturday, 6-2, at Keene Ice.
“It’s definitely easy to be discouraged with that,” said Keene head coach Chris McIntosh. “It’s been a while since we haven’t been in a game. But we’re still confident and excited for what the boys I think can do moving forward.”
Peter Haas and Robbie Nowill each scored a goal in the loss. Nowill served as Mooers’ replacement on the top line.
Jacob Russell got the start in net for the Blackbirds, making 22 saves.
Keene got into penalty trouble early, giving the Crusaders a two-man advantage early in the first period.
Manchester Memorial took advantage of the 5-on-3 situation and scored with 12:21 left in the first period to take a 1-0 lead.
The Blackbirds committed four penalties in the first period alone.
It was 2-0 Manchester Memorial after the first period when the Crusaders scored again with 44 seconds left on the clock.
Keene went to the power play late in that first period, and put some pressure on Manchester Memorial, but ultimately couldn’t find the back of the net.
The Crusaders extended their lead to 3-0 a few minutes into the second period.
The Blackbirds went back to the power play with 3:45 left in the second period, and that was when Haas found some offense, with Nowill recording the assist.
“We got what we wanted, we got a one-on-one matchup on the break-in,” Haas said of his power play goal in the second period. “[Nowill] made a great look to the center. We got guys who were turned around, and it led to an easy, quick goal that gave us some momentum.”
After an excellent save from Russell that earned cheers from the Keene bench and the limited crowd, the Blackbirds went into the second intermission down 3-1, but with some of that momentum and about one minute left of a power play after a late penalty was called on the Crusaders.
But Manchester Memorial killed off the penalty, and just about killed off any hopes of a comeback by making it a 4-1 game early in the third.
Nowill answered a few minutes later, poking one in off a rebound, but, about 30 seconds later, Manchester Memorial scored again, giving them a 5-2 lead.
The Crusaders added another power play goal before the final buzzer.
“It’s been a while since someone came in here and skated around us in this kind of fashion,” McIntosh said. “But the good news is, we still have a lot of pieces in that locker room. We will return some key and important pieces moving forward, which will help us dramatically.”
Mooers, of course, is one of those pieces. He is scheduled to return before Keene’s game against Merrimack next Saturday.
“Zach is just one of those players who can take over a game,” McIntosh said. “Not having him out there has a snowball effect.”
Ben Greenwald, Ryan Smart and Cam Quail are three other key pieces that the Blackbirds were missing on Saturday but are expected to be back in the lineup in the upcoming weeks.
With so many key players currently unavailable, McIntosh said he can’t remember ever being this thin on the bench.
“Just a bizarre year all around, and it continues to be,” McIntosh said. “That’s why it’s tough to get too down or too upset about a loss like this. Hopefully it’s a learning experience.”
And he wants the team to use this loss as a way to springboard through the home stretch of the regular season.
“It has been a while since we’ve had a reality check, it’s been a while since we’ve been knocked down a little bit, and I think that’s helpful for everybody,” McIntosh said. “So we’ll see how they respond.”
Haas, a captain, echoed that feeling.
“We don’t lose here a lot, especially in that way,” Haas said. “It’s eye-opening, but at the same time, it’s something to build off of. I don’t think anyone’s discouraged or disheartened by the loss. Everybody wants to get back to the grind.”
The regular season has just a few weeks left, and on Friday the Keene school board decided to officially give Keene High athletics the green light to compete in the postseason.
The next game for Keene will be at Merrimack on Saturday at 4 p.m.