EAST ALTON — At the times during the regular season when things looked bleak for his Alton High hockey team, Redbirds coach Aaron Kestler acknowledged there were things that needed fixing. But he also stressed that his young team also would improve, as long it persevered.
The Redbirds began posting wins late in the season and that trend continued in the first round of the Mississippi Valley Club Hockey Association Playoffs Thursday night.
Fifth-seeded Alton scored a goal in each period and knocked off fourth seed Bethalto 3-1 in the late-night game of two first-round postseason openers the MVCHA Class 1A playoffs at the East Alton Ice Arena.
In the early game, Triad defeated East Alton-wood river 11-4 to take a 1-0 lead in their best-of-three series.
The victory for the Redbirds (xx-x) means they take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series. Game 2 is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. Monday at East Alton. If needed, Game 3 will be played at 8:45 p.m. Tuesday at East Alton.
“The boys played great tonight,” Alton’s Kestler said. “I’m glad to get Game 1, but time to get ready for Game 2.”
The winner of the Bethalto-Alton series will advance to face top-seeded Highland in a Class 1A semifinal series et to get under way Feb. 8 at East Alton.
Thursday, Alton led 2-0 after two periods, but the Eagles got an early goal in the third period to make it 2-1. But Redbirds goalie Caleb Currie kept Bethalto at bay the rest of the way and Alton added an insurance goal late in the game for the two-goal cushion. Currie made 17 saves.
“(Currie) came up with some huge saves for us,” Kestler said.
Tristan Mouser got the Redbirds on the board late the first period when he scored off an assist from Shawn Grizzle at 2:04.
Alton’s Connor Neeley made it 2-0 in the second period. He was assisted by Jacob Eppel at 2:18. Neely scored 25 goals during the regular season with five assists.
Bethalto’s Nolan Kahl cut the Redbirds’ lead in half early in the third period. Kahl, who scored 43 goals and added 16 assists during the regular season, scored unassisted at 11:05.
Bethalto continued to apply pressure, but the Eagles weren’t able to get a tying goal past Currie. Alton’s Tristen Seymour made it 3-1 with 1:30 remaining. He was assisted by Neely.
Triad 11, EA-WR 4 – In the early game Thursday, Triad scored a goal with 14 seconds remaining in the first period, then went on to roll pats the Oilers to take a 1-0 lead in the series.
Game 2 is set for 8:45 p.m. Monday at East Alton. The series winner will advance to the semifinal round to face No. 2 seed Edwardsville. That series is set to beginFeb. 8 at East Alton.
“We played a good first period,” EA-WR coach Tim Weishaupt said, “but the goal we gave up with 14 seconds left in the first deflated us.”
EA-WR’s Kaleb Harrop and Isaac Lewis each scored a pair of goals. Harrop scored 39 varsity goals during the regular season. Lewis scored nine goals and had two assists during the season.
“Hopefully,” Weishaupt said, “we can come out Monday with more intensity and even it up.”