HACKENSACK - In Mahwah's season-opener on Sunday, the T-Birds had to claw their way back from a two-goal deficit in the third period against Indian Hills to pull out a. Not only was the comeback an important early-season win, but a test of character.
In its second gave, Mahwah picked up right where it left off as, this time, there would be no need for a comeback as the Thunderbirds raced out to a 3-0 lead in the first period and never looked back in beating Wayne Hills 6-3 yesterday at the Ice House in Hackensack.
Mahwah got off to the hot start by consistently keeping the puck in the Patriots zone and peppering Wayne Hills keeper Charles Kemmlein for virtually the entire game as a result. Although he did a commendable job between the pipes, he could only do so much.
The Thunderbirds got two of their three first-period goals in similar fashion. Already leading 1-0, Dave Tippner and Jay Forkins would clean up rebounds off of saved shots in front and tuck them past Kemmlein to give Mahwah a sizable 3-0 advantage.
But a pair of silly penalties spanning the closing moments of the first period and the opening seconds of the second period, gave Wayne Hills a chance to get back on track offensively and the Patriots did not let that opportunity slip away.
On a 5-on-3 advantage, Dave Rogers fed the puck to a streaking Dan Berardi. The right-winger's shot was blocked at the blue line, but it bounced right back to Berardi, who made good on his second shot and trimmed the lead to 3-1.
Still on the power-play, Wayne Hills came inches away from scoring again seconds later. Kyle Hennig's shot in front slipped past Mahwah goalie Ken Minassian, and stopped right before the goal line. Defenseman Jay Pollack, who played stern defense throughout the contest, alertly pushed the puck under Minassian's pads before any of the Patriots could get to it.
"Every hockey player knows that there are going to be penalties in every game," said Forkins. "They really came at us hard and if they score there, who knows what might have happened. But we kept our heads up and played with confidence. Getting out to an early lead probably was the key to us playing so well. But you can't rest on a lead, because a team is going to come at you that much harder when their back is against the wall."
Mahwah weathered the storm and continued to dominate play on both ends when the teams were at full-strength. Kemmlein, a sophomore, was brilliant in making save after save. He could only keep the determined T-Birds regaining a three-goal advantage for so long. Joe Walsh connected with a quick slapper off of a face-off with 6:13 left in the period.
Wayne Hills cut the lead back to two goals early in the third period. Chris Miller carried the puck down the right side on a 3-on-1 breakaway and kept it himself, wristing one just inside the post to make it 4-2 with 12:33 to play.
The Patriots would not get any closer from there. Jay Forkins' nifty stick work put the game on ice for the T-Birds.
Forkins, who scored a goal in Mahwah's season-opener, weaved his way around two defenders and put one top shelf to push the lead back to 5-2. With Wayne Hills' dangerous power-play unit on the ice, Forkins gathered a loose puck, raced in untouched, and capped off a hat trick and the Mahwah scoring with a short-handed goal.
"We're a young team and made some young mistakes," said Wayne Hills head coach Rob Harmer, who is in his first season as the Patriots' head coach. "We couldn't get the puck out of the zone and it killed us. But the positive things are that the kids played hard every second they were out there, and we were very physical and very aggressive, and all of our mistakes are correctable ones.
"The skills and the ability are there, but when the chemistry falls into place we'll be a much tougher team to beat," said Harmer, a five-year Major League Roller Hockey veteran, added. "The foundation is there, now we just have to put it all together."
Wayne Hills captain Kyle Hennig tacked on the final goal of the game off of a feed from Dan Berardi, but Mahwah improved to 2-0, and are off to a nice start to the grind that is the ice hockey regular season.
"It's nice to get off to a good start, not only in each game but with our season as a whole," said Mahwah head coach. "This team can't rely on coming from behind and today I was real happy with the start we got off to today. We have some good shifts and some lulls. We'll become more consistent as the season goes on and we're all very happy to be 2-0."
In a losing effort, Kemmlein recorded 26 saves on the afternoon, several of those from point-blank range. His counterpart, Ken Minassian finished with 13.
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