For the first time in the six-year history of the Ridgewood varsity ice hockey program, the Maroons are coming off of a losing season. The team is also undergoing its first coaching chance since the inception of the program. Put that together with a pair of late one goal losses to open the season, and pessimism could very well grip the team.
Instead, Ridgewood showed that, at least at this point, this year will not be a repeat of last season, as they faced a good West Milford team on Friday night and presented new head coach Joe Michalski with a 7-3 win.
Thanks to last year's 1-14-1 last place campaign, the Maroons were dropped from the Northern Conference Red Division to the White Division, and their victory evened their division slate at 1-1 as they head into a busy week of action.
"I feel like we've had the first win a couple of times before," Michalski said after his initial win as a head coach (he was an assistant with the Maroons under Jeff Nyhuis last season). "In the first two games (a 2-1 loss to Old Tappan and a 4-3 loss to Kinnelon), they both scored the winner with less than 1:20 to go."
This time, they left little to chance despite seeing a 4-0 lead early in the second period begin to fall apart. The Highlanders got only as close as two goals, as Ridgewood freshman David Putnins came up big when he had to.
The Maroons got three goals in the first period while owning the play, as senior Chris Potter opened the scoring at the 6:11 mark with an unassisted goal. Freshman Sam Graham scored just seven seconds later, as sophomore Brian Peacock won the faceoff to junior Brad Vollkommer, who fed Graham for the score.
The third goal came from sophomore Jesse Graham, who was assisted by his brother Sam with 2:55 to go in the period. When Peacock scored 4:14 into the second period off assists from Jesse Graham and soph Patrick Ryder, West Milford head coach Glen Frey pulled junior goaltender Brian Trudell in favor of freshman Sean Ryan (4 saves, 1 goal allowed).
The Highlanders (2-2 overall, 0-2 in the division) got halfway back with goals 2:08 apart, the first by senior Ryan Saum off assists from sophomore Joey Romano and junior Shawn Fraser and the second by Fraser from Saum and junior Geoff Hoon with 3:34 to go in the middle stanza.
The Maroons got one back 55 seconds later, as Jesse Graham notched his second of the game off a nice feed from junior A.J. Fuhrman, but soph Mike Massimi got the highlanders to within 5-3 just 22 seconds later, taking a feed from senior Brian Parello and launching one from the top of the left circle that beat Putnins to the glove side.
"It was three different games," Michalski assessed. "We owned the first period (Ridgewood outshot West Milford by a 12-1 count), they took it to us in the second (the Highlanders had a 12-5 shot advantage) and we had the better of play in the third period."
The third period saw Ridgewood put home two unassisted goals, the first coming 1:56 in when senior Mike Cozza stole a pass at the right circle, moved in and beat Trudell, who returned to the nets at the outset of the period. Senior Russ Grodin then made a steal of his own at the left circle and launched a slap shot that beat Trudell (19 saves) before he could react. The goal came with 10:16 left, and it essentially shut off any chance of a late comeback.
"We're definitely happy with the way we finished the game," Michalski added. "They were far and a way the best of team that we played in the first three, and I felt we did some good things on the ice and we worked hard. "In between the second and third period, we talked about how we didn't need anything special from anyone, we just needed everyone to go back to doing their job and we'd be okay."
Michalski also did some experimenting ("we gambled a bit," he said) with his line-up, putting Putnins in the goal and also mixing up his lines a bit after going with set trios for most of the first two games.
"The Grahams and Peacock are set, and I just kind of leave them alone and don't say much to them. They are special players, and we want to try and use them. Once in a while, we try to get them out on another line. Everyone else got 3 or 4 shifts, as we used the whole 20 tonight."
Ridgewood did lose the services of senior forward Dan Layfield for the final 15 minutes, as he suffered a possible concussion in the second period.
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