Howard senior Nathan Handwerk talks about the Lions' 15-4 playoff win over Arundel on Friday, May 12.
On the strength of a first half that coach Jimmy Creighton called his team's best half of the season, Howard cruised past Arundel Friday night in the second round of the 4A/3A East region playoffs.
Senior Nathan Handwerk scored four goals and added an assist, while senior Mark Bruner added three goals, to lead a Lions attack that was clicking on all cylinders right from the start en route to a 15-4 victory over the Wildcats.
"We have been telling the guys, 'Hey, new season. Let's play better and closer to how we are capable of playing,' which we haven't been able to do consistently this year. And I think we saw some of what we are capable of tonight," said Creighton, who has led the Howard program to four straight region championships. "I think that's how any coach, whose team has had a couple tough losses during the regular season, is going to approach the playoffs. I was definitely pleased with the response from our guys."
Howard (11-5) advances to face defending 4A/3A state champion Severna Park in the region semifinals on Monday, May 15. The Falcons, a 19-8 winner over Old Mill on Friday, defeated the Lions 12-5 during the regular season.
Going into the rematch, Howard will certainly be riding plenty of momentum. The Lions scored on their first four possessions against Arundel on Friday, riding an inspired effort from Felix Knorr in the face-off circle to establish control of the ball and then the offense proceeded to work it around for quality shots.
Patrick Sutch, Garrett Rhinevault, Kendall Cooper and Ben O'Connor each found the net in succession to give Howard a 4-0 lead just over five minutes in.
"We always stress how important those first few possessions are … I just thought we really worked the ball around, dodged and finished our shots," Creighton said. "It obviously gave us a ton of confidence and put a little doubt into the opposing team."
Arundel temporarily halted the momentum when Eric Ranck, who finished with a team-high two goals, fired home an unassisted tally with 2:48 left in the opening quarter.
But Howard went right back to work on the offensive end in the second quarter — rattling off six more unanswered scores to break the game open.
Knorr, who won 13 of the 16 face off he took on the evening, was particularly dominant during that second quarter. His effort, combined with Mark Bruner scoring three times in a span of three minutes early in the period, went a long way.
Handwerk, who scored two goals of his own during the first-half run, said having Bruner back in the fold after missing a few games with an injury is a nice boost.
"Felix, he won many face offs — gave us a lot of possessions — and that was the key to the offense. We had more possessions than them and ended up scoring more," said Handwerk. "Mark being back, he's just being in those key spots and we're seeing him. Everyone is moving around and contributing to the offense."
Howard ended up going into halftime with a 10-2 lead and then increased that advantage to 11-2 by the end of the third quarter. Howard's defense did its part in protecting the lead as well, with goalie David Mauser finishing the game with nine saves and holding Arundel scoreless for a stretch of nearly 15 minutes between the third and fourth quarters.
Looking ahead, Howard is more than familiar with the Severna Park team that is next up. After all, the Seahawks — who are still undefeated this spring — won the state championship last year by defeating the Lions in the title game.
"We've played them before, this will be the fourth time in the last two seasons, so we know how good they are and how explosive their offense can be. We also know how dangerous their defense is with their pressure," Creighton said. "We are just going to try and avoid the turnovers, keep our cool and keep our eyes up and move the ball."