Atholton's ice hockey team may never have been as vulnerable as it was in a win over previously unbeaten Howard on Friday, but the Raiders may never have looked as strong.

Playing without two starters and two reserves and with team captain Colin Brumsted nursing an ankle injury and fighting the flu, Atholton played one of its best games of the season, turning an anticipated battle between unbeaten teams into an 8-2 rout at the Gardens Ice House in Laurel.

"I thought they were going to give us a lot closer game," said Brumsted, who scored the Raiders' first goal and was among three Atholton players to score twice. "[Howard] just didn't come out. They came in overconfident, but we didn't come in overconfident whatsoever. We just kept our heads in it. I just came in thinking, 'I know we can beat these guys.' "

Atholton (4-0) was without Chris and Pat Kevan, who were suspended for a game after receiving game misconduct penalties in a Dec. 17 win over Hammond, as well as reserves Alex Boule and Brandon Daniels.

Howard (4-1), which had already equaled its win total of a year ago, scored first on a slap shot by senior Jeff Palmer from just inside the blue line with 11 minutes 8 seconds left in the first period.

"I was worried, especially after that first goal," Raiders Coach Jim Brumsted said. "That was a soft goal. . . . They were putting pressure on us. We were putting pressure on them, but it looked like it was going to go either way."

It didn't take long for that to change. Atholton scored back-to-back power-play goals to take a 2-1 lead with 4:54 left in the first period, tacked on two more before the first intermission and led 8-1 after two periods. Sophomores Sean Harkins and Tyler Brumsted also had two goals for the Raiders. Tyler Brumsted also had four assists.

"Our guys were a little reeling," said Howard assistant coach Rich Palmer, who took over the coaching duties Friday when Coach Michael Rand could not make it to the game. "I kept trying to tell the defense they had to play defense, but they kept getting caught up. We couldn't handle their speed."

That Howard couldn't handle Atholton's speed is bad news for the rest of the county. Atholton has already beaten Centennial, and with the short-handed win over the Lions, the rest of the county will be hard pressed to catch the Raiders in the regular season.

Both Centennial and River Hill each have a loss and a tie, and the Lions had the best shot of knocking off the defending county champion Raiders.

"If our two top lines are able to play intact, then we might have been able to get a break," said Rich Palmer, whose team was without Jan Gaspar, one of its top scorers who left the ice after two shifts because he was sick. "I didn't expect to come in and have a big victory, but I thought we had potential. We played them fairly close early in the year [in a scrimmage], but we didn't have both guns running today."

The two teams could still meet in the playoffs. The top three teams qualify for the postseason, with the top seed receiving a bye. The county champion advances to the Maryland Scholastic Hockey League playoffs. Atholton lost in the MSHL semifinals last season.

"I think we are the dominant team in our county," Jim Brumsted said. "We are the team to beat now. We will probably see them again in the county playoffs."