ROCKLAND – Saturday evening was Lori Sawtelle Night as the Whitman-Hanson Regional High boys’ hockey team honored the late mother of its captain, Ryan Sawtelle.
The team broke out its black jerseys and donned an oval “LS” decal on the top right shoulder, all of which were part of the tribute to Lori, who lost her battle with cancer last March. After a brief pre-game announcement to remember Lori while showing support to her family, the puck was set to drop.
On the ice, the Panthers weren’t about to be denied — not on Lori’s night — as they rallied behind their captain and his family for an emotional 6-1 victory over Plymouth North at Rockland Ice Rink.
“We definitely knew what we were playing for tonight and this whole season, too, so it meant a lot,” Sawtelle said.
When W-H (4-3-1, 1-2-1 Patriot League Keenan Division) took the ice for the third period with the score reading 1-1, the feeling in the rink was palpable — it was going to get the job done.
With roughly nine minutes remaining, senior assistant captain Korey Howard (one goal and two assists) made sure that happened by blasting a wrist shot past Plymouth North (3-3-2, 2-1-1) goalie Chris Kearney to push the Panthers in front 2-1.
“We did it,” Howard said of his initial thought after the goal.
Nearly a minute later, with 8:22 remaining, freshman Kevin Willis poked one home, pushing W-H’s lead to 3-1.
Senior assistant captain Alex Uva enhanced W-H’s advantage to 4-1 with 6:39 left, potting one past Kearney.
“It was awesome,” Uva, who said this was the most packed he’s seen the Rockland Ice Rink, explained. “The atmosphere tonight was great and getting that goal in front of all these fans and for Ryan and his family was awesome.”
The Panthers’ offensive onslaught continued as tallies by junior Owen Manning and sophomore Ed Collins capped a five-goal period.
After falling behind 1-0, W-H drew even at the 8:05 mark of the second period as a blast by Sawtelle caused a pair of rebounds, one of which was slapped in by sophomore Chris Stoddard.
“I knew that I wanted to come out strong and show everyone who we are and what we’re going to do tonight,” Sawtelle, who finished the night with three assists, said.
Uva, who ended the contest with a goal and three assists, said his mindset coming into this one was a simple one.
“Get the win for Lori, she was a great person and I’d do anything for the Sawtelle family,” he said.
Sawtelle said the outpouring of support he received from his teammates, coaches and community meant a lot.
“It shows who’s there for me, definitely a lot of support for me and helped me play through this game,” Sawtelle said
The victory also snapped a two-game Panthers losing streak, to boot.
W-H returns to action Saturday, Jan. 13 at 8 p.m. against Abington at Rockland Ice Rink.