The buzzwords were bursting from Bishop Eustace coach Mike Green's lips like pucks off helmets last week, as the Crusaders' ice hockey team prepared for its biggest challenge in the program's history at the Mennen Sports Arena.
Eustace, seeded third in the NJSIAA Non-Public state ice hockey tournament, was getting ready to make its first appearance in a state semifinal game and the opponent was Delbarton, the top seed and frequent visitor to the final four.
The Crusaders aimed to be cool and collected yesterday in the face of the Green Wave, against whom they were emboldened by a 1-1 tie last Dec. 15. However, Delbarton's defense and fierce forechecking proved to be too much for the Crusaders, who fell, 3-0.
The win was Delbarton's 22d in a row. The Wave will meet the winner of today's St. Augustine Prep–Christian Brothers Academy game Saturday at the Prudential Center in Newark for the state championship.
In a game in which Delbarton (26-1-1) outshot Eustace (15-8-4), 30 shots to 17, the Wave thrived on keeping the Crusaders on the perimeter and away from the middle of the ice, where their forwards could get behind Delbarton's defense.
"I hate to lose," said Eustace sophomore forward Jamie Hill, the Crusaders' leading scorer with 14 goals and 26 assists. "It was tough when they scored with a minute left in the first period. When they scored in the third period, that was the nail in the coffin."
Delbarton senior forward Andy Bell put the Wave ahead, 1-0, with 1 minute, 26 seconds remaining in the first period when he flicked a shot over junior goalie Kyle Van Osten's left shoulder from about 20 feet out.
Senior Charles Nerbak, Delbarton's all-state forward and top scorer (29 goals, 36 assists), scored an insurance goal with 8:06 remaining in the game when he fired on Van Osten, got his own rebound and placed the puck through the five hole.
Nerbak scored an empty-net goal with 36.6 seconds left to ice the game at 3-0.
"[Nerbak] reached behind himself for the rebound and put it in," Van Osten said. "It was amazing.
Van Osten's brilliant goaltending, the defense of Sam Gerulsky, Tom Lynch, Zach Green and Conor O'Kane and the pesky offense of Hill kept the Crusaders from getting blown out.
"We were labeled as doormats at the beginning of the season, and we proved everyone wrong," said Van Osten, who had 24 saves.
A hooking penalty on senior Alex Wooley 2:01 into the second period looked like trouble for Eustace. However, while playing shorthanded, Green blocked a dangerous shot and Hill ripped one that sailed just wide of Delbarton senior goalkeeper Michael Infante. The fired-up Crusaders weathered the storm, and by the end of the period they had seven shots on goal, three more than the first period.
In the first period, Delbarton was buzzing Van Osten like a vulture sensing a meal. The Wave fired nine shots, keeping the junior goalkeeper on alert as the defense in front of him did a good job of thwarting Delbarton's aggressive offense.
Bishop Eustace 0 0 0 - 0
Delbarton 1 0 2 - 3
Goals: Andy Bell, Charles Nerbak (2). Saves: BE–Kyle Van Osten 26. D–Michael Infante 17.