Both teams agreed that a fast start would be critical in Thursday night’s rivalry boys hockey game between Janesville and Beloit.
It was the Purple Knights, coming off their worst loss of the season, who parlayed an early lead into a meaningful victory, defeating the Bluebirds 5-2 at the Janesville Ice Arena.
Beloit (2-8 in Big Eight play, 3-12 overall) had just fallen to previously winless Madison La Follette/East 48 hours earlier.
An early goal by Tyler Harrington (Clinton) put the Knights up and raised the hackles of veteran Janesville coach John Mauermann.
“That game played out exactly as I thought it might,” Mauermann said. “We gave them something to get happy about early. I know (Beloit coach) Kurt Buchs challenged them after their loss to La Follette, and all of a sudden you give a team like that confidence and allow them to play with a lead, and it’s a different situation.”
Another Clinton player dressed in purple, Tyler Katalin, made it 2-0 with a second-period goal.
And thanks in large measure to the standout performance by Beloit goalie Aiden Wright, that’s the way the score stood heading into the third period.
Janesville got on the board with 15:21 remaining in the third on a goal from Walker Kulas, but the Knights responded just 12 seconds later when Aidan Holub (Clinton) made it 3-1.
The Bluebirds (4-6, 6-11) got to within 3-2 on a power-play goal by Conor Joyce to cut the margin in half.
Wright and the Beloit defense had to withstand a Janesville onslaught for the next five-plus minutes, with Wright accumulating 15 of his 43 saves in the final period.
Beloit got some breathing room with 54 seconds left on a long-range empty-net goal from Alec Bishop, and Katalin repeated the feat 10 seconds later to account for the final margin.
While the Knights’ offense was certainly productive enough, it was the play of Wright that was a true difference-maker.
“You have a goalie like that, it really can change things,” Mauermann said. “And I didn’t think we made him move enough. A big goalie like that, you’ve got to get him moving. When his butt was on the ice, we scored. When it wasn’t, he did a fantastic job and we didn’t score.”
Buchs was equally impressed with his pupil.
“Aidan’s been dealing with injuries for a while now,” Buchs said. “We had to pull him from the La Follette game, but to come back and play like that, it was amazing. Just a great performance from him tonight.”
Harrington said the fast start was critical.
“When we got that first goal, the feeling just changed for us,” Harrington said. “Janesville is our big rival, and we were playing with a lot of energy. That’s the way we need to come out against everyone for the rest of the year.”
The Knights will host Madison Memorial Saturday, while Janesville hosts West Bend on Tuesday.
BELOIT 5, JANESVILLE 2
Beloit 1 1 3—5
Janesville 0 0 2—2
B—Harrington (Cobbs), 9:19.
B—Katalin (Evans), 10:45.
J—Kulas (Schaffner), 15:21. B—Holub, 15:08. J—Joyce (Kulas), pp, 6:41. B—Bishop, en, 0:54. B—Katalin, en, 0:44.
Saves—Wright (B) 43; Kaas (J) 11, Campbell (J) 6. Penalties: B 5, J 5.