By MICHAEL RADANO
It wasn't hard to make out what the student section of the St. Augustine ice hockey team chanted after the first goal of Friday's game.
"Yeah, I heard it," Bishop Eustace defenseman Taylor Morgan said with a broad smile. "All it did was fire us up more."
Granted, it's a chant that has been used to denigrate many times before. It's a chant of arrogance, of a foregone conclusion. But with 3:52 left in the first of three periods, is it really more than a mockery?
"We heard it," said Crusaders forward Tyler Hancock, who scored a pair of goals later in the game. "That's just a part of the atmosphere. It's an exciting way to play the game."
So, when the Hermits' faithful chanted "It's all over!," it certainly wasn't, especially since Eustace had more than enough fight to beat the previously undefeated Auggies.
With three consecutive goals that bridged the first into the second period, and goaltending by Colin Saltiel that conjured up images of Jim Craig, Bishop Eustace beat St. Augustine 3-2 in front of a passionate and overflowing crowd at the Vineland Ice Arena.
After the second period, Eustace coach Mike Green mentioned that this is the type of crowd he had hope would some day present itself in South Jersey. And with two of the four locals on the ice, it had the feel of a World Cup soccer game, right down to a shoving match over the Bishop Eustace flag.
For the Crusaders (7-4 overall, 4-2 Southern Conference Red Division), the approach seemed simple. Find just enough offense to shut down the high-powered and state-ranked by two polls St. Augustine attack.
"We know we don't have their kind of firepower," said Saltiel, Eustace's junior goaltender who officially turned away 31 shots. "We wanted to play a defensive game. We caught some lucky breaks. The puck was in the area and we found ways to clear it."
"Especially after we got up 3-1, we approached the game defensively," said Morgan, who gave the Crusaders a 2-1 lead with 2:12 left in the first period on a blast from just inside the blue line. "You don't think about attacking a team that averages six goals a game once you get a two-goal lead."
Or, for that matter, when you're down a man for much of the second and start of the third period.
After Hancock scored his second goal with 8:44 left in the second period on a nice power-play effort, the Hermits (9-1, 8-1) were the beneficiaries of five power-play opportunities. Their lone goal in that time came at full strength, when the Hermits came down the right wing as Zach Stern worked along the boards. Stern slid the puck out front to Mike Innarato, who tapped it across the crease to Robert Baskow for an easy goal.
From that point on, Saltiel and his defense held on.
"You can't even be mad at him," St. Augustine coach Ralph Triboletti said. "He's a good kid. He's done this to us before and I'm sure he'll do it to someone else later."
Forgive Triboletti, who has seen Eustace come out far too often in this matchup. The Crusaders have now won 16 of the last 18 meetings between the two programs, with another game scheduled for Feb. 10 at the Pennsauken Skate Zone.
One thing is for sure, at least according to Saltiel, the Hermits will be ready -- and not because the visitor's fan base chanted "Start the buses" as the clock ran down.
"I'm sure they're ready now," the goalie said. "If we asked them to play right now, I'm sure they'd be on the ice right now."
Unfortunately for St. Augustine, as Saltiel spoke, it really was over. Reach Michael Radano at (856) 486-2424 or firstname.lastname@example.org