The Patriots were already playing somewhat shorthanded Friday night, skating without two of their top goal scorers — Arthur Yun and Jordy Bretner. Through the first 41 minutes of the game, Wootton was able to keep pace with a talented Whitman team, largely thanks to the solid play of goalie Jake Mitchell.
With a little over four minutes to play in the third period, Wootton once again found itself on the penalty kill and Whitman took advantage, capitalizing on a power play opportunity with 4:02 left in the game.
With the puck deep in Wootton's end, Seth Weintraub accepted the pass from Aidan Neustadtl and put the puck over Mitchell's glove and into the back of the net for the game-winner, giving the Vikings the victory over the Patriots at the Rockville Ice Arena.
Despite the loss, Wootton coach Dave Evans continues to be pleased with his young team's development. He is encouraged by the effort and enthusiasm of his team's young talent.
In fact it was a freshman who scored Wootton's lone goal in the second period — a power play goal off the stick of Adam Kaplan with 8:03 left in the second period.
The play of the team's young players, such as Kaplan and sophomore Austin Schoenfeld, who leads the team with five goals and had multiple scoring opportunities against Whitman, has Evans confident his team is moving in the right direction.
"I'm pleased with how far we've come since the beginning of the year," Evans said. "But we're still really young. And our guys have to do a better job making decisions. But that comfort level will continue to grow the more we play together and get to know each other and I've already seen tremendous growth since our first game against Churchill."
After a scoreless first period, Whitman got on the board first with a Wyatt Hughes goal with 9:49 left in the second period when his shot just trickled in past Mitchell, who was unable to scoop up a bouncing puck. That's when Wootton retaliated with its goal on a power play less than two minutes later when Kaplan found the back of the net on the power play, with assists from junior assistant captain Joe Kelly and senior captain Anthony Corini.
Wootton (2-4, 2-2) also had several scoring opportunities late and Schoenfeld was able to fire off a few power play shots in the third period, but Whitman goalie Matthew Bruns was able to keep the Patriots out of the net the rest of the way. He finished with 17 saves while Mitchell ended with 18.
Evans was pleased with both Mitchell's performance in net for Wootton and with the pressure his team put on Bruns late.
"We had a couple of great scoring opportunities. Sometimes you don't get the bounce you need when you need it," Evans said.
After the game, Corini echoed his coach's sentiments and was pleased with how the team responded to the adverse situation of playing without two of its top scorers.
"It was definitely a step in the right direction for us," Corini said. "They're a very good team and we came in down a few players and we're happy with our effort. [Bruns] made some great saves and we also got some bad bounces, hit a couple posts. But that's hockey. We'll come back next time and be ready."
Wootton's next game is against B-CC on Jan. 6. And Evans will use the time to reinforce and address some of his team's opportunity areas.
"I want to win them all, obviously," Evans said. "But if losing here means we're making progress for February and the playoffs, then I'll take it. We're headed in the right direction and we'll continue to take those steps. We found some identifiable things that we need to work on and we're definitely looking forward with a positive attitude."