December 19, 2002
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Ridgewood finishes busy week with win over Highlands

Thursday, December 19, 2002

By Jim McConville Staff Writer

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Ridgewood's Kevin Hogan controlling the puck along the boards during Wednesday's 5-1 win over NH.

HACKENSACK -- Playing its fourth game in six days and coming in with only 15 skaters dressed, it was the perfect time for the Ridgewood ice hockey team to take a step back, maybe find that its legs weren't yet ready for the schedule grind.

It was also the perfect time for Northern Highlands to break out of a scoring slump that had seen them score one goal in three of the last four games, catching a Maroon team a bit shorthanded at the end of rough week.

The Highlanders could not break the scoring slump, and the Maroons found the net with three of their first four shots on the way to a 5-1 victory at Ice House Wednesday night, giving them three wins in the four games this week and bringing their overall record to 3-3.

James Eoff tied the score at 1 for Northern Highlands before Ridgewood put home four unanswered goals.

Ridgewood now gets a well-deserved rest for the next seven days before playing its first round game in the Mackay Holiday tournament against Demarest on December 26th. The Highlanders, who slipped to 2-3-1 overall, will play Wayne Hills and Old Tappan back-to-back on Saturday and Sunday.

"We just had no energy," said NH head coach Noel Rubin. "They did a good job defensively, trapping us in the zone, and when we did break through, nobody wanted to forecheck. They wanted it more, plain and simple."

Ridgewood grabbed a 3-1 first period lead, beginning with an unassisted Jesse Graham power play goal 3:11 into the game off a scramble in front of the net, his sixth goal of the season.

Just 55 seconds later, James Eoff knotted the game for Northern Highlands (2-2-1 in the Northern Conference White Division) with his first goal of the year. He picked up a loose puck in the left circle, skated low and took a sharp angle shot along the ice that got past Maroon goalie Pat Ciliberti inside the right post.

Maroon goalie Pat Ciliberti stopped all but one of the shots that came his way.

The Maroons grabbed the lead for good at the 6:48 mark, as Russ Grodin threaded a pass out of the defensive zone to Mike Cozza charging the middle of the ice. Cozza came straight on and beat Highlands goalie Rob Wilechansky clean to the left side.

Grodin then made it 3-1 on a shot from the right side at a sharp angle, with the assists going to Graham and Frank Lazzaro. It was Grodin's third of the year, and it came with 6:09 to go in the opening period.

In the second period, Cozza got his second of the game and fourth of the year, and again it was Grodin who set him up. On the power play, A.J. Fuhrman sent the puck into the Highlander zone, where Grodin picked it up and sent a cross-ice pass to Cozza on the left side. He one-timed it past Wilechansky with 4:05 left in the second period.

"We challenged them after last game and before tonight," Ridgewood head coach Joe Michalski said of Cozza and Grodin, two seniors, "to start carrying this team, and they combined for five points. They rose to the occasion, and that's how it's going to be all year.

Brian Peacock is a key component of the Ridgewood attack.

"The Grahams and Peacock are going to be steady, but how Grodin and Cozza go will be how this team goes."

With 54 seconds to go in the period, Peacock got his fourth of the season, as Graham sent him on a short breakaway with a nice feed just inside the blue line. Patrick Ryder got the second assist on the goal that made it 5-1. Neither team scored in the third period, as Ridgewood (3-2 in the Northern Conference White Division) was content to protect their zone.

"We played the period we wanted to in the third period, which is the most important. We played very defensive-minded. They had no scoring opportunities in the slot. They just keep doing what I'm asking them to do."

After opening the season with a pair of tough one-goal losses, the Maroons seem to be building some momentum as well as confidence, though Michalski said that, "I saw positives all along. We haven't been outshot all year (it was 27 apiece against Highlands). We've been putting two periods together, but tonight I think we played our most complete game."

Ridgewood's John Switaj (left) making a hit along the boards.

Ciliberti, back in goal for the second time this year (he missed a couple of games this week due to a head cold, and David Putnins, the other goalie, was missing for this game due to illness), made 26 saves, while Wilechansky made 16 saves before being relieved by Tim Erstling to start the third period. Erstling made six saves.

"We can't score goals, that's our problem right there," Rubin remarked. "We've outshot teams, but have nothing to show for it. The chances are there, we're just not putting it in. There's no confidence right now.

"I didn't think we'd be struggling at .500, that's for sure," Rubin added. "Now we're in a battle." Information Box:

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