MANCHESTER -- After winning the Founders' Cup championship last year, which goes to the winners of the Mid-States Hockey Association's third-level playoffs, the Ladue High hockey team returned to the ice on Friday, to officially open its 2012-2013 season.
And although the Rams played a dynamite final two periods at the Queeny Park Ice Rink against a talented, elite-level club from Ft. Zumwalt East High, Ladue couldn't overcome its rough start in the first seven minutes of the season and lost its season opener to the Lions, 6-3.
"It's a new season, and it's the first game, and we we're still trying to figure some things out," Ladue head coach Jon Hodgins said, after his Rams gave up three goals in the first seven minutes to fall behind 3-0 to Ft. Zumwalt East.
"After that, we kind of got it back together, and I thought we played a great game. I'm thrilled with how these kids played out here tonight."
That's because Ft. Zumwalt East is one of the clubs some people believe could contend for either the Wickenheiser Cup, which goes to the Level 2 champions, or even the Challenge Cup, which is awarded to the winner of the elite Level 1 playoffs.
"We've got a pretty talented club," Zumwalt East head coach Kyle Hedgpeth said. "We've got a few guys that club level, and a couple of them weren't even here, and I still thought we played really well tonight."
The Lions got a great effort from two of those club players that did make it for Friday's debut, in seniors Trevor Thornton and Alex Klaesner.
Thornton, a first-year player with East, had three goals on the night, including a pair of breakaway scores late in the third period that allowed the Lions to finally put away the Rams.
Klaesner, East's team captain, had two goals and two assists, including a power-play goal in the second period, that proved to be the game-winner.
"Those two guys were outstanding," Hedgpeth said. "Trevor's new to our club, and we're so happy to have him. I thought he showed a couple of things he could do. And Alex is our leader. Both those guys are going to be big players for us this year."
Ladue also has a couple of top-notch talents it will rely on pretty heavily.
Senior Charlie Jonas, who led the Rams in scoring last year, netted his first goal of the season in the second period, to pull Ladue back to within 4-3, after the Klaesner score made gave the Lions a 4-2 edge.
And teammate Matthew Gould had two goals, both in that wild first period, that got Ladue back into the game, after it had fallen behind 3-0.
Jonas finished the night with a goal and two assists, and Gould had two goals and one assist, but it still wasn't enough to slow down Ft. Zumwalt East, even though sophomore goalkeeper Elliott Shevitz made 22 saves against a barrage of Zumwalt East scoring chances.
"I thought we did a terrific job against one of the best teams in the league," Hodgins said. "Ft. Zumwalt East is going to score a lot of goals on a lot of people. But tonight, they got that breakaway at the end, and an empty-netter. Otherwise, this was a one-goal game. So I'm thrilled with how we played.
"Our goal is to make it into the Wick Cup playoffs, or maybe even the Challenge Cup. And if we play with this kind of effort every night, we should be right there at the end of the year."
Ladue (0-1) will be back on action, next Saturday, November 10, when the Rams will take on Pattonville, in a game at the Rec-Plex in St. Peters. Opening face-off that night is slated for 6:45 p.m.
Ft. Zumwalt East (1-0) will also play its next game at the Rec-Plex. The Lions are set to host Francis Howell North, Friday, November 9, at 9:30 p.m.
"It's a long season, we just have to try to keep guys healthy, and we'll see where we are," Hedgpeth said. "I don't know how we're going to do it, but we're going to try."
Score by Periods ..... 1 ... 2 ... 3 -- Final
Ft. Zumwalt East ....... 3 ... 1 ... 2 -- 6
Ladue ........................ 2 ... 1 ... 0 -- 3
FZE - Trevor Thornton (1), unassisted -- 14:32 ...................... 1-0
FZE - Ryan Lucas (1), assisted by Alex Klaesner -- 10:58 ..... 2-0
FZE - Alex Klaesner (1), assisted by Ryan Lucas -- 8:16 ....... 3-0
Ladue - Matthew Gould (1), assisted by Charlie Jonas -- 8:03 ..... 3-1
Ladue - Matthew Gould (2), assisted by Charlie Jonas and Colton Schalk -- 4:31 ..... 3-2
FZE - Alex Klaesner (2), power-play goal -- 14:38 ..................... 4-2
Ladue - Charlie Jonas (1), assisted Matthew Gould and Colton Schalk -- 5:38 ..... 4-3
FZE - Trevor Thornton (2), assisted by Alex Klaesner -- 5:32 ..... 5-3
FZE - Trevor Thornton (3), empty-net goal, unassisted -- :39.0 ... 6-3