March 3, 2003
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Slumping no more, Highlands ousts Pascack Valley

Monday, March 3, 2003

By Jim McConville
NJS.com Staff Writer

HACKENSACK - Northern Highlands spent that better part of the season struggling to score goals, and it cost the Highlanders in many a game. Over the past few weeks, though, they seem to have come out of that scoring slump.

Against Pascack Valley on Sunday afternoon in the opening round of the state ice hockey tournament, the Big Red continued their late-season scoring prowess and advanced to a 6:00 p.m. game Wednesday in Mercer County against third-seeded West Windsor/Plainsboro North (20-3-1) out of the Colonial Valley Conference with a 4-2 defeat of the Indians.

The win was the first ever-state tournament win for the Highlanders, who lost in the first round to West Milford and Tenafly in the previous two seasons. It also moved them to 12-11-1, guaranteeing a .500 season.

For the second season in a row, Pascack Valley won the post-season Northern Conference Blue Division Cup tournament, then turned around and lost its opening state game against an NBIL foe. Last year, it was a 3-2 loss to Ramapo, while this year's defeat leaves them at 17-5-2. Having won the Blue regular season title, the Indians will move up to the White Division next season.

"The last six weeks, we've been getting the goals we didn't in the first half," Highlands head coach Noel Rubin said. "We were looking to shut off (Andrew) Redvanly, and we did a good job of that. We played a physical game, and I think it rattled them a bit in those first two periods."

Pascack Valley seemed to get the better of the opening play, as they threw numerous shots at Highlands. The problem was that the majority of those shots were not on net, so the pressure was not paying dividends.

The Big Red got the first goal at 11:05 of the opening period, and it came 20 seconds after PV goalie Eric Levin had made a strong save on Jarret Bauer coming down the middle. Shannon Yallof controlled the puck to the right of the net behind the goal line and passed to James Eoff camped in front. He one-timed it past Levin for his 3rd goal of the season.

"Getting that goal from the second line was huge," Rubin noted. "The first line has been doing most of the scoring, but it was a nice pass and shot and got us going."

Levin (15 saves) again came up big 2:20 into the second period, making another great save while sprawled on his back, but the Highlands pressure was beginning to swing the momentum of the game, and they scored twice in a 1:06 span to take control.

The first goal was at the 5:00 mark, as Bauer took a pass from Justin Tannenbaum and tried a wrap-around from the left side. The puck slid off his stick to Ozzie Toy at the right post, and he pushed his 12th goal past Levin.

The third Highlander goal came after Eoff sent a pass through the crease from left to right that found Yallof close to the goal line. His sharp angle shot caught the left side of the net at the 6:06 mark.

The lead increased to 4-0 on the power play, as Valley began to get frustrated. Toy moved the puck to Yallof on the right side, and he once again found the net from a sharp angle at 11:53 of the middle stanza, his 11th of the year.

In between periods, Rubin kept telling his team to play it one minute at a time, and for the first six minutes of the third period they were able to hold off the Indians, but Valley can score in bunches and they put up a pair of goals 34 seconds apart to make it a game.

Mike Finamore got the first one, as a Redvanly shot from the point caromed off of NH goalie Rob Wilechansky (30 saves) to Finamore, who deposited his 25th of the season at 6:10. Mike Hodgman got the other assist on the score. PV came right back as Redvanly once again set up the goal. His pass from the blue line found Mike Cole just to the right of Wilechansky, and he buried his third of the season at 6:44.

Northern Highlands was able to close out the game, with the only serious chance coming with one-tenth of a second to go when Redvanly was robbed of a chance for his 52nd goal of the season by Wilechansky. Redvanly finished the year with 51 goals and 40 assists for 91 points, tops in the state at this point.

"I was afraid we might come out and be a little bit flat after Friday (Cup final)," PV head coach Bruce Palmieri said. "They had a week to prepare, and they did a good job of executing the physical game.

"It was a tremendous season, and we have a lot to be proud of, but you just can't give away two periods and expect to win the game. I'm looking forward to the White Division next year, because to get ready to play these (tournament) games, you need to play tough competition, and we'll get that."

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