January 6, 2003
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Bounce of the puck goes Mahwah's way

Monday, January 6, 2003

By Cory K. Doviak
NJS.com Editorial Director

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Joe Walsh breaking into the offensive zone during the Mahwah win over Demarest on Sunday night that improved the T-Birds' league record to a perfect 6-0.

HACKENSACK -- A look at the standings in the Northern Conference-Blue Division would suggest that there is a wide gulf between first place Mahwah and Northern Valley/Demarest, a second year varsity program that has just one win through 10 games of the season. But on Sunday night when the two teams met for the second time this season, the difference was a mere bounce of the puck.

With Demarest leading by a goal late in the opening period and on the power play, Mahwah's Nick Bassing let go a shot from the point that looked harmless as it ricocheted off a defenseman's stick near the blue line.

But instead of bouncing harmlessly into the corner or even backwards where it could have lead to an odd-man rush the other way, the puck went high in the air and stayed along its original course. When it landed, it took one bounce in the crease and trickled into the goal behind Demarest goalie Alex Ciociola, who never reacted having never seen it from the moment it left Bassing's stick. The goal tied the game at 2, but the momentum had unmistakably shifted to the Mahwah side.

Will Hilsman assisted on the game's first goal for N/V Demarest.

The break was just another fortunate one that Mahwah (7-2) has picked up on its way to an outstanding start to its season, and another tough one for Demarest (1-8-1) to swallow.

"We are just not getting the breaks. You have a team like (Mahwah) that we are so close with and they are 6-0 now in the division and we are 1-5 in the division," said Demarest head coach Anthony Silvestri, whose team dropped a 2-0 decision to Mahwah earlier this season that also saw a fluke goal tip the scales. "Like their second goal, the way it bounced in, we need something like that to go our way and maybe we can turn this thing around."

But there are few soft goals against Mahwah goalie Ken Minassian, a senior who has anchored the T-Bird defense all season. After allowing the game's first goal on a Demarest power play just four minutes into the game, Minassian was nearly perfect the rest of the way and his team found just enough offense to stay perfect in the league standings heading into Thursday's matchup with Wayne Hills and then Friday's showdown with Pascack Valley, the preseason favorite that is also unbeaten in league play so far this season.

Mahwah goalie Ken Minassian making the last of his 17 saves on Sunday night.

With Jay Pollack in the box for boarding, Demarest took advantage of the man-up situation and struck first when Jeff Casser banged one home from the slot with the assists going to Chris Vita and Will Hilsman. With two-thirds of Mahwah's top line, center Tim Berger and left wing Laurence Eng, absent from the lineup for missing a practice, the Thunderbirds needed someone to pick up the offensive slack.

Bassing, part of the T-Bird's first defensive pairing along with Steve Cassidy, did just that when he joined the rush and was sent in up the right side. Bassing held off a defender at the blue line, controlled the puck with his outside arm then cut to the front of the net from where he slid one through the five hole to tie the game at 7:59 of the opening period.

"It hurt losing those two (Berger and Eng). We had to rely in our second and third lines to really step it up," said Minassian, who is a part of the senior class that has been with the program since its inception as a varsity sport four years ago. "Nick Bassing on defense really stepped up and got us the two goals early."

Mahwah's Dave Tippner and Nick Bassing holding up Demarest's Eric Mattesich (13).

Demarest took the lead back three minutes later when Hilsman forced a turnover in the Mahwah end then flicked a wrister toward the short side. Minassian made the first save with his right shoulder, but one of the few rebounds he allowed amongst his 17 saves landed right on the stick of Brian Gregory, who banged home the loose puck.

Demarest had a 9-5 advantage in shots through the first period, but did not get to bring the lead into the first intermission as Bassing's deflected goal found the back of the net 1:45 before the first horn. The Norsemen had a 20-12 edge in shots through the first two periods and had the first real chance to break the 2-2 tie in the second period.

Midway through, Casser led a 2-on-1 rush into the Mahwah zone and, once over the blue line, he dropped a nifty back pass to Hilman, who went in alone. But Minassian stoned the low rip and Mahwah would cash its next quality scoring chance.

Demarest's Chris Vita taking a shot while Mahwah's Jay Forkins (77) delivers one of his own.

After a turnover in the Demarest end, Jay Forkins and Bryan Reiss each got off shots at close range that Ciociola got to, but the third time was the charm as Nick Volpe slid home the second rebound at 10:37. That was it for Ciociola, who aggravated an existing injury during the flurry and was replaced by Joe Fried, who stopped all 10 shots he faced.

The third period was wide open, but neither team could dent the net over the game's final 15 minutes. Mahwah had nine shots to Demarest's six in the final period and both teams avoided the disadvantage that comes with penalties. Demarest was called for just one penalty in the game while Mahwah was tagged for just five, all two minute minors, with one of those coming for having too many skaters on the ice.

Mahwah's Jay Pollack (right) and Demarest Chris Poulos battling for the puck in the corner.

But that will likely not be the case on Friday in Mahwah's first place showdown with Pascack Valley. The Indians knocked off Wayne Hills on Sunday night, 9-2, in another example of what has become their familiar chippy style. Pascack Valley is the same team that took 29 penalties, many of the major variety, in a loss to Paramus Catholic two weeks ago in the Ice House Holiday Tournament.

But Mahwah head coach Sean Devine is looking forward to the challenge.

"We just have to be disciplined, not let (Pascack Valley's) style draw us into any dumb penalties and play our game, move the puck and take advantage of our opportunities," said Devine, who is in his first season as the T-Birds' head coach. "PV finished second in the league last year, everybody picked them to win the league this year and it is going to be a real measuring stick for us to see how good our program really is and how far we've come along."

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