by Frank Aceto
Associate Sports Editor
They were one of the best teams in the state last season.
But what is more troubling to Hudson fans is this: The Rocky River Pirates own the Explorers.
The Hudson ice hockey team had to settle for second place at the Rocky River Thanksgiving Tournament after losing a 3-2 decision to the Pirates Dec. 1 at Hamilton Arena.
Rocky River, a state semifinalist last season, also posted a 4-3 victory over the Explorers in their opening-round matchup Nov. 29.
In the two teams' latest contest, the Pirates, who have had Hudson's number in recent years, got in the Explorers' heads early.
As fans were still getting comfortable in their seats, Rocky River already had a 3-0 lead in the first period.
Hudson (3-2-2) bounced back with two power-play goals later in the period, but both teams defenses tightened things up considerably and the 3-2 score stood.
"It was a physical slugfest," Explorers' first-year head coach Bobby Lyle said. "It went back and forth and a lot of defense was played after the first period."
Defenseman Zach Thibault got Hudson on the board when he scored off assists from defenseman Matt Murphy and forward Anthony Giaimo. The Explorers got the goal when Giaimo found the net. Murphy was credited with his second assist of the game.
Neither team had too many opportunities to put the puck in the net after the first 15 minutes. The Pirates outshot Hudson 18-17 for the game.
"We did have our chances," Lyle said. "There were a few rebounds that we didn't get there in time. We missed the net a few times. They [the Pirates] did a nice job in the defensive zone."
Explorers goaltender Austin Ganley made 15 saves in the nets.
"I thought Austin played really well," Lyle said. "He responded well after the first three goals. He really helped us down the stretch."
Lyle would do just about anything to see his team solve Rocky River. But he was pleased with how things went.
"It was our best performance of the tournament," Lyle said.
Hudson reached the title contest with 7-0 and 4-2 victories over Westlake Nov. 30.
In the 7-0 win, forwards Brent Zubal and Bo Lori each had two goals and Thibault had one goal and three assists.
Forward Mikey Gaffney had one goal and two assists and forward Max Cole also found the net.
Defenseman Brendan Nenni added two assists. Ganley and backup goaltender Stroud Corr had 27 and seven saves, respectively, in the nets. Westlake outshot the Explorers 34-24.
In the 4-2 victory, Nenni, defenseman Brady Edwards, Giaimo and Thibault each scored for Hudson. Lori and forward Chandler Kotseos each had two assists for the Explorers and Ganley stopped 27 shots. Westlake outshot Hudson 29-23.
The Explorers' first game with Rocky River had a lot more fireworks.
The Pirates outshot Hudson 40-37 as both teams had numerous opportunities to score more goals.
Thibault had a power-play goal and an assist for Hudson. Forward Hunter Reed and Giaimo also scored once for the Explorers.
Lori added two assists and Nenni, Gaffney and forward Connor Kasarda each had one assist for Hudson. Ganley finished with 36 saves.
The Explorers are scheduled to make their Red North Division debut against Shaker Heights Dec. 6 at Thornton Park. The game is set to begin at 7 p.m. Shaker Heights is the defending state champion.
Hudson is scheduled to host Red North rival Brecksville-Broadview Heights Dec. 7 at Kent State University Ice Arena. Game time is set for 1:45 p.m.
"Shaker graduated some guys, but they've got a great feeder and youth programs," Lyle said. "The kids are excited. It will be a fun atmosphere. Brecksville is a young hard-working team. It won't be a walkthrough.
"Our goal is to win the division, so it's important for us to get off on the right foot. Hopefully, we can get some momentum going."