ESSEX — The Essex Hornets reminded Spaulding why they’re Vermont’s top-ranked boys hockey team during Saturday’s 6-1 victory.

The Crimson Tide were facing the Hornets for the third time this season after two previous losses. Essex earned a 5-0 victory over Spaulding in last year’s Division I championship, but both teams battled back and forth during the opening minutes Saturday.

The Crimson Tide (3-8-1) jumped out to a 1-0 lead after Evan Parent picked up a loose puck at center ice.

He skated in above the face-off circle and fired a shot just under the blocker of Essex goalie Sam Foster (16 saves).

“To go up on a team like this early and strike first was critical for us,” Spaulding coach Chad Burke said.

Spaulding almost doubled the lead when Jameson Mast fired a shot toward the five-hole, but Foster quickly closed his pads and knocked the puck wide.

Essex coach Chris Line was not overly concerned when his team fell behind early.

“Spaulding got the first goal, but I thought we were controlling the play early,” Line said. “We had good puck possession.”

The Hornets (10-2-1) used a combination of speed and quick passes to score three goals in the final five minutes of the first period.

Grady Cram converted on a 2-on-1 opportunity when he fired a shot just inside the post to tie the game.

Cram (two goals, one assist) scored a minute later on a pass from Sam Gibbs (one goal, one assist) for a re-direct in front of Spaulding goalie Grant Otis (33 saves).

Jonah Janero made the most of a Spaulding defensive turnover, giving the Hornets a 3-1 lead.

“We started to become undisciplined towards the end of the period,” Burke said. “We left some Essex guys open. They move their feet and pass well. And when you don’t cover them, they will create excellent scoring opportunities.”

Essex extended the lead in the second period when Willem Barwin jammed a puck loose near center ice during a Spaulding power play and scored a short-handed breakaway goal.

The Hornets created another breakaway chance late in the period, but Otis made a glove stop on Gibbs.

Essex tacked on third-period goals from Gibbs and Gordon Schmalz. Both teams changed goalies midway through the third period. Spaulding’s Kyle May made a couple of difficult stops late in the game. Foster was relieved by his younger brother Maxwell (four saves).

The Crimson Tide will now prepare for a busy week with three games in six days.

“Every team we play is going to be a challenge for us,” Burke said. “It seems like whoever decides to show up each night is the team that does well. We’re looking to stay healthy, continue to do the little things we do well, create scoring chances. We’re young, a little bit inexperienced. We’re playing some guys that don’t have a ton of ice time, but they’re doing some good things on the ice and gaining confidence.”

Spaulding will host South Burlington at 4:15 p.m. Monday.

The Crimson Tide will host Rutland at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday before traveling to play South Burlington at 1:45 p.m. Saturday.

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