WOODRIDGE — Corbin Klein thrives in these kinds of moments.
Tie game. Third period. Facing Benet, a rival who had already beaten Klein and the St. Ignatius Wolfpack once this season. Puck on his stick. Puck in the back of the net. Wolfpack lead. Wolfpack win.
Klein added a late goal to close it out, lifting the Wolfpack to a 4-2 victory on Sunday afternoon at Seven Bridges Arena in a Chicago Catholic Hockey League first-place showdown.
“He’s such an important piece for us,” Wolfpack coach Matt Smith said of Klein. “He’s a difference-maker. Really cool, calm and collected. And he scored some high impact goals. Full credit to him to have that impact in a meaningful game.”
The game winner came on a feed from Paul O’Grady on a two-on-one at 8:44. Klein took the pass, stickhandled closer to the cage to get Benet goalie William Janus down, then went top shelf on a backhander and a 3-2 lead.
“Paul O’Grady made a nice little saucer pass over the defenseman’s stick and I was one-on-one with the goalie,” Klein said. “Pulled out the pitching wedge and chipped it over his left shoulder and sure enough, it’s a 3-2 game.”
Klein iced the victory on an unassisted goal with 1:03 to play, stealing an attempted break-out pass and then, once again, getting Janus (28 saves) to commit before calmly lifting the puck into the net.
“He made it look easy,” Smith said. “He’s a bit of a junkyard dog. He lives in those tight areas. It was huge for us and it breathed a lot of life in us to close the game out.”
The Wolfpack (16-2) rallied from a 2-0 deficit to avenge a 4-2 loss to the Redwings on Oct. 24. They struck for a pair of goals in 83 seconds late in the second to stun the Redwings (13-3).
Joey Velarde cut Benet’s lead in half, scoring on a wrist shot from the slot at the 2:51 mark. Will Karnick followed with an unassisted goal off of a steal deep in the Benet zone with only 1:28 left in the period.
Smith credited his team’s resilience in staging the comeback and building momentum for the final period.
“Getting that first goal helps, right? It gives you a little bit of life, some lift to your game. So that propelled us,” he said. “Getting that first goal made that mountain easier to climb. Credit to us to not be content with just that one. To go into the break tied was really helpful. We weren’t chasing the game in the third and that really changed the shape of the game.”
Benet managed only three shots on goal in the first, but nonetheless held a 1-0 lead at the end of 17 minutes. Hudson Schlie opened the scoring with a high shot that beat Sebastian Wigfield (15 saves). Christiano DiBenedetto fed Schlie from the far corner to earn the first assist.
The lead went to 2-0 in the second when Cole Rosenthal netted a power-play goal, deflecting a Schlie wrist shot from the top of the right face-off circle. But the Redwings couldn’t shut the door on the Wolfpack.
“We got a little bit passive in that second period when (St. Ignatius) scored those two goals,” Benet coach Jon Grzbek said. “Our D-men weren’t going right at it and taking bodies or taking lanes. Gave them too much time and space.
“I thought the first period was really good, but that second period really defined the game and they won it. And they won the third period,” he added.
The victory gives the CCHL-leading Wolfpack 32 points, six more than Benet. The Redwings have two games in hand, but will need help in order to wrest the top seed away from the Wolfpack.
“I think it’s going to be anybody’s ballgame,” Grzbek said. “We’re 1-1 against each other. We still have three or four more games in the conference, so we gotta make sure we take care of those and continue to hold onto second place. The second place finish doesn’t affect us until the finish and that’s for home ice in the final. But we still gotta get through the regular season.”
Klein, in his first year with St. Ignatius, sounded like he wouldn’t mind facing the Redwings again this season.
“We’ve got a big history with Benet,” he said. “This was a big night. We don’t really like each other a whole lot. You can tell when you’re watching the game that there’s quite the rivalry out there.”