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Mars hockey team holds off late Freeport rally

| Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013, 10:38 p.m.
Freeport's #91 Cole Hepler hustles back with the puck against Mars' #08 Owen Vasbinder during the hockey game at the Belmont Ice Complex in Kittanning on Thursday January 24, 2013. Erica Hilliard | Valley News Dispatch

After losing to Mars in an outdoor contest at Station Square earlier this month, Freeport was hoping to change the result when the Class A rivalry moved back indoors Thursday night.

The Planets, however, were able to hold off a third-period Yellowjackets rally and post a 3-2 win at Belmont Complex.

Nicholas Makozy scored two goals, and Craig Mazzotta added another as Mars took a 3-0 lead early in the third period only to see the Yellowjackets score twice in the final eight minutes.

The Planets (13-2-1) extended their unbeaten streak to 12 games, while Freeport, playing before a vocal senior night crowd, fell to 11-3-1.

The Mars defense turned in another outstanding performance, limiting Freeport's scoring chances for more than 2 12 periods.

The defensive highlight was in the third period when the Planets fought off a Yellowjackets two-man advantage for 1:19 and other Freeport power play opportunities totalling more than three minutes.

“We work exclusively at every practice on special teams,” said Mars coach Steve Meyers. “The third kill was really impressive because Ian Houk-Graves had to leave for his amateur practice after two periods, but the guys fought through it.”

Meyers had to move Mazzotta, the team's leading scorer, back on defense for the final period.

For Freeport, the story was the number of penalties that caused it to spend a considerable amount of time warding off power plays.

“It's the same story we've faced all year long: we take too many penalties,” said Freeport coach Dave Hepler. “I think we're the highest penalized team in the league. There's no reason for it. We've got enough talent in that locker room.”

Makozy's goal less than five minutes into the game was the only tally until Mazzotta scored his 18th goal of the season with 3:29 left in the second period.

Makozy's second goal, his 16th of the season, came just 1:40 into the third period.

Nicholas Zidek finally got a shot over the left should off Mars goaltender Christian Knapp with 7:44 left in the game.

Zidek added a second goal with 1:04 remaining.

“They're a hard-working team, and they get a lot of traffic around the net and they've got a good power play,” Meyers said.

Hepler pulled goaltender Matt Huston and a Mars penalty on Nick Berteotti gave Freeport a two-man advantage in the waning seconds, but Mars cleared the puck out of its zone three times to ice the victory.

George Guido is a freelance writer.

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