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Irey a difference maker for Strath Haven vs. Springfield

Strath Haven's Mike Irey, right here in a game against Conestoga last year, made his mark Friday night in a 6-1 win over Springfield. (DFM File)

ASTON — When Mike Irey crumpled to the ice after a hit from behind on Dec. 30, all associated with Strath Haven hockey feared the worst.

“My first thought was I going to be out six to eight weeks with a broken collar bone,” Irey said.

His coach had a similar feeling.

“When Mike didn’t get up, I knew we had a problem,” Matt Chandik said. “Mike’s not the type of kid to just lay on the ice and soak in the drama.”

Luckily the diagnosis was less severe, and the Panthers’ season, not to mention Irey’s, may have been saved. He’s that important to the club.

On Friday night against Springfield, Irey scored twice and added two assists as Strath Haven fought off a slow start to defeat the Cougars, 6-1, in Central League action.

“(Irey) makes a huge difference,” Chandik said. “He sat out a couple games and you could see right away – we tied Haverford and we beat Salesianum by a goal – but just offensively we’re not the same team without him.”

After Springfield outshot the sluggish Panthers, 10-7, in the first, Irey demonstrated his worth in the second period. He found the back of the net twice in the first 4:40 of the frame. On the first goal, he took a pass from Liam Carney on the goal line and stuffed a backhander by James Donegan. On the second, Carney again fed Irey, this time from behind the net, and watched the 2018 All-Delco go high glove.

“That was big,” Chandik said of Irey. “He’s one of the best offensive players in the league. He’s so hard to stop once he’s moving.”

“(Coach)’s been telling me to go to the net more, just because I’m older, bigger, stronger than the other kids,” Irey said. “I’ve added that to my game.”

He has also built strong chemistry with Carney over the years.

“We’ve been playing together since elementary school,” Carney said. “We’re able to find each other.”

Once that duo got going – they combined for 10 points with Carney contributing a goal and five helpers – Haven’s other horses followed suit. Ryan Spanier, the Central’s leading point producer, scored twice to end the second. Top-scoring defenseman Blayden Reid added an assist, while freshman Josh Peabody continued his hot start with a goal and an assist.

“We just kind of had to get the kinks out,” Irey said. “I think the second and third period, we started to get pucks on net. We all kind of know who’s going to put the puck in the net. We know our roles.”

It helps to have Lukas Bernaus in goal as well. His first-period breakaway stop on Aidan Smith kept the game knotted at zero. Bernaus came up with another one-on-one stop in the second, this one on Geno Romolini. Bernaus’ 21 saves reinforced the notion that the Panthers (8-1-1 Central, 10-1-1 overall) can get it done on both ends of the ice.

On the other side, the Cougars (4-5-0, 4-6-0) are going through something rare for the program, a rebuild. They challenged Haven in the first period, but couldn’t hold off the Panthers’ potent attack in the second and third.

“I think we played good,” Smith said. “We just had a couple of defensive breakdowns. We have to get more shots on net and capitalize on our opportunities.”

Sam Simms scored Springfield’s lone goal when he picked off an ill-advised pass in the offensive zone and beat Bernaus five-hole. That made it 3-1 in the second period. The Cougars drew no closer.

Haven skated away with the program’s first victory over Springfield in more than 10 years. And with Irey, Carney and Co. rolling, the Panthers aren’t done yet.

“We definitely have a lot of room to improve,” Carney said. “I just remember since sophomore year, we’ve been talking about when we’re seniors we’re going to be an awesome team. We’re clicking now. We’ll see if we can keep that going.”

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