EAST ALTON - A young Edwardsville High hockey team played well and gave a very good accounting of themselves, but two power-play goals, as well as two St. Louis University High goals in 63 seconds in the third period, gave the defending St. Louis Blues Challenge Cup champions a 5-3 win over the Tigers in the Mid-States Club Hockey Association season opener for both teams Thursday night at the East Alton Ice Arena.

It's a good mixture of the youth of experience that the Tigers bring to the ice as Edwardsville begins its fourth season in the MSCHA, and for an opening night performance, head coach Jason Walker couldn't have been any more pleased.

"I thought for the first game of the season, we were very happy with the way we came out," Walker said. "We jumped out to that lead, and to play a clean, hard game, we felt really good about it, playing the defending champs. We know they're a tough team, but as far as the first game, first varsity game for about half of these guys in the locker room, we've got such a new, young group, I can't complain about the start, that's for sure."

Despite losing many key players to graduation, the younger players stepped up and played very well.

"Yeah, I mean, as far as the young guys go, in this new group," Walker said, "if this is our starting point, I'm really excited about where we're going to go. We're going to get a lot better; these guys are focused, and throughout the season, we're going to be pushing to get better, and like I said, if this is the starting point, we're in for a fun next three months."

And the Tigers will be playing in a new division this season as well, after playing in the tough Municipal Division with SLUH, CBC, DeSmet, Chaminade and many of the league powers. Edwardsville was moved to the Suburban Division for the 2019-20 season, and will play against Eureka, Fox High of Arnold, Lindbergh, Parkway South, Parkway West, Rockwood Summit, Rockwood Seckman and Westminster Christian of west St. Louis County. New competition, but new opportunities for Edwardsville as well.

"We're just taking it a game at a time," Walker said. "Obviously, it'll be a little bit different schedule for us, but playing the top teams like SLUH and CBC, so we're kind of focusing on us. We just need to get better, and we need to make sure that we get the younger group on board, and we're playing our best hockey game in and game out."

Junior Billiken head coach Jack Behan felt that the Tigers did get off to a strong start, and credited Edwardsville for hanging in there after SLUH starting playing better and taking control of the game.

"Well, I think it was a really strong start for Edwardsville," Behan said. "It kind of put us on our heels a little bit, but after a while, we started playing a little better, and getting some opportunities. But even after we were playing well, Edwardsville was hanging there right with us; they had the lead halfway through the game. It was a tough battle."

Behan feels SLUH will be a work in progress coming off their Blues Challenge Cup win over DeSmet in overtime at the Enterprise Center last March, and will try to build week by week.

"Well, I think it's a work in progress this year," Behan said. "It's a brand-new team, it's a whole new team, and each week, we just kind of build on what we did the week before."

There were plenty of players who stood out for SLUH on the night, with plenty of solid games up and down the lineup.

"We had a lot of guys who had some really solid games," Behan said. "Patrick Simoncic, Chase Tretter, a lot of guys did some good stuff out there."

And the SLUH hockey tradition will help play a key role in how the team builds this coming season.

"Well, I think those guys take it real serious in that room," Behan said, "and they know there's a tradition of excellence here, and they know there's a lot to live up to, and they take it very seriously, and they don't want to let anybody down."

And as the season progresses, there's one simple goal that the Junior Billikens hope to accomplish.

"Well, you know, every year, we want to try and be the best we can at the end of the year," Behan said, "and see how far that takes us."

Perhaps a repeat performance with another championship?

"That'd be fun," Behan said with a laugh and a smile.

It was a very good start for both teams in an evenly played first period, with the Tigers have perhaps the best chances, particularly a shot that was stopped by SLUH goalie Cole Jansky that fell loose into the crease, and was cleared by the Junior Billiken defense before a Tiger player could poke it into the net. Meanwhile, Tiger starting goalie J.P. Twombly played well, making a couple of good stops as Edwardsville outshot SLUH 9-6 in a scoreless first period.

The Tigers struck first in the second period at 54 seconds, when Jansky stopped a good shot by captain Mark Tucker, but Sam Gibbons banged home the rebound to give Edwardsville a 1-0 lead. SLUH tied the game up at 3:20 on a goal from Zach Petlansky off a rebound, assisted by Tyler Lindhorst and Mario DiMaggio, a goal that made it 1-1. Edwardsville took back the lead later on when Tucker took a pass from Gibbons and deflected the puck past Jansky at 7:21 make it 2-1 for the Tigers, but the Junior Billikens tied up again at 13:18, with Justin Harper off for cross-checking. Alexander Beville deflected in a centering pass from Matthew Warnecke to tie the game at 2-2, with Simoncic also getting an assist. The period ended 2-2.

The Junior Billikens took the lead for good on another power play early in the third, this time with Matt Clark off for slashing. Simoncic scored from the slot, assisted by Warnecke, to give SLUH a 3-2 lead at 2:32, then the Junior Billikens scored twice in 1:03, getting the first goal on a nice shot from Tretter unassisted at 6:14, then at 7:17, Beville scored his second goal of the night, assisted by Lindhorst, to give SLUH a 5-2 lead. The Tigers pulled to within 5-3 at 9:44 when Nate Frey took a pass from Trevor Laub, skated in alone and put the puck past Jansky to give the Tigers a lifeline, and second later, at 9:56, had a five-minute power play when Petlansky was given a major penalty for head contact and a game misconduct. But SLUH was able to kill off the penalty without allowing a shot as the Junior Billikens took the 5-3 win.

For the game, SLUH outshot Edwardsville 28-18.

The Junior Billikens are now 1-0-0 to start, and take on Oakville on Saturday at the South County rink, while the Tigers start off 0-1-0, and face DeSmet Friday night before returning home next Thursday to face Seckman. For SLUH, Behan is taking a one-game at-a-time approach to the season against a very well-balanced and competitive league this season.

"Well, I just think that we have a long way to go," Behan said. "There are several really good teams out there. I think there's some parity in the league, and the question is how much we improve as the season goes on."

As for the Tigers, Walker felt there were many young players who stood out in the opener, and it bodes well for the upcoming season.

"Oh, a lot of guys," Walker said. "Up and down the lineup, I thought everybody played well. Everybody had a plus game tonight. The young guys stood out to me, just because it's their first game of the year; you don't know how it's going to go. But some of the younger guys really stepped up, and the guys that have been here before really stepped up as leaders, and all around the lineup, it was good. So we're excited."

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Chris Rhodes also contributed to this story

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