Cleary clearly a game breaker

John Browne
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Winger scores twice in Vikings’ 3-1 win over Highlanders

The Gonzaga Vikings’ Devon Saunders (21) of  collides with the Holy Heart Highlanders’ Chris Mallard during Game 3 of their best-of-five St. John's High School Hockey League final at Twin Rinks on Thursday night. Gonzaga won 3-1 and lead the series 2-1.  — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

Ben Cleary was all smiles outside the Gonzaga Vikings dressing room following his two-goal performance which helped his team defeat the Holy Heart Highlanders 3-1 in the St. John’s High School Hockey League final Thursday night at Twin Rinks.

The win gives the Vikings a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series with Game 4 set for 5 p.m. Monday at Twin Rinks.

Adam Caines had the other goal for the Vikings. Chris Mallard scored for Heart.

It was Cleary’s four-minute penalty with three minutes to play in Game 2 of the series which cost his team a chance to get a tying goal with Gonzaga eventually falling 4-2.

“It sucked,” Cleary said of the penalty he took in Game 2.  “It sucked a lot,” he added with a laugh.

“In no way did I go out to pick up a penalty,” he said of the high hit that sent him to the penalty box for the remainder of the game. “That’s all you can do. It was just a stupid mistake. It’s hockey.”

Cleary said there was no finger pointing or blame after that game.

“As bad as I felt, the guys on the team said it wasn’t my fault.”

The hustling winger didn’t say he used the experience as incentive for Thursday night’s game, but he played like he was trying to make a definite impact and he did.

Cleary tied the game at 1-1 on a breakaway with five minutes left in the second period when he slipped the puck past Highlanders netminder Nick Walsh. He scored the winner at the three-minute mark of the third period.

Gonzaga coach Bryan Cooper said Cleary played, “a really outstanding game.”

“Right from the get-go he had his legs going. He was backchecking hard and he scored those two big goals.

Cooper, meanwhile, said he never blamed Cleary for the penalty he took in the loss to Heart earlier this week.

“We had most of the calls going our way in that second game and I knew there was going to be one coming against us at some point. It was unfortunate that it came so late in the game. But we put that to bed and got ready for this game.”

So what does it say about Cleary that he rebounded with two goals in Game 3?

“Big character…a lot of character. He’s a really competitive guy and a leader on the team,” said Cooper.

The Highlanders took the game to the Vikings early, but while they buzzed around the Gonzaga net, they were kept to the outside for the most part.

By the time the second period came around the Vikings had slowly taken over the run of the play.

Gonzaga goalie Brandon Goodwin made two huge saves on Jessie Parrell and Grant Nolan in the first period which helped the Vikings rally for the win.

Cleary said the provincial 4A champions want to end the season with another championship, especially the graduating players.

“You want to leave on a winning note for sure,” said the Grade 12 student.

 “We have the boys to do it. We’re a closely-knit group. We’re all friends on this team. When we get down in a game we always feel we can come back and win and it’s been that way all year.

“We have the perfect amount of skilled players, hard workers and grinders,” he noted.

There were only three penalties called in the cleanly-played contest, two to Holy Heart.

Organizations: Vikings, High School Hockey League

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