Eustace can't pull off upset

By SEAN McCANN Courier-Post Staff March 16, 2008

MORRISTOWN If the Bishop Eustace Prep ice hockey team truly skated onto the ice at the Mennen Sports Arena with nothing to lose, then it lost nothing.

But the Crusaders' faces told a different story, one of a missed opportunity.

The fifth seed, Bishop Eustace fell to top-seeded Delbarton 3-0 in Saturday's Non-Public state semifinals.

Among those who took the defeat hardest was sophomore forward Jamie Hill, who saw his history-making season end with a team-record 40 points.

"I just feel really bad for the seniors," Hill said. "I wish I could have done more for them. The problem is, I don't know what else I could have done."

Bishop Eustace battled disadvantages in size, speed and experience, with only the magical play of junior goalie Kyle Van Osten to save the day. And it almost did. Van Osten, who has been alternating games with Nick Casella, came up with a gem, stopping 27 shots.

"And the goals they scored, they were great goals," Crusaders coach Michael Green said. "This one wasn't the goaltender's fault."

Delbarton's Andy Bell scored the first goal on a backhanded shot from his knees near the end of the first period. The Green Wave's captain, Charles Nerbak, scored the other two, flicking in his own rebound near the beginning of the third period and hitting an empty net in the final minute.

Delbarton (26-1-1) advanced to next Saturday's final at the Prudential Center in Newark, where they will face the winner of tonight's semifinal between St. Augustine and Christian Brothers Academy. Eustace's season ended with a 15-8-4 mark and the sting of disappointment.

"These are seasoned hockey players," Green said. "They believe that if they work hard on the ice, they'll be rewarded. They worked hard out there, and not to get rewarded is disappointing.

"There are no moral victories, not at this level."

But trailing 1-0 after two periods was something of a victory for Bishop Eustace, which spent much of the game on its heels.

The first goal came off the stick of Bell, who shot from his knees, 15 feet out in the slot with 1:26 left in the first period.

The second period began with a Delbarton power play, which ironically yielded Eustace's best scoring chance when Hill intercepted a pass deep in the Green Wave zone.

His shot sailed wide.

"I shanked it," the sophomore said. "If I had a little different angle on my blade, it might have been different."

Still, Bishop Eustace was happy to be in the game with 15 minutes to play.

"We figured if it's tied, 1-0 us or 1-0 them going into the third, that's beautiful," Green said.

Delbarton's defense had been dominant, but Eustace was just one momentary lapse from 1-1, which was the final score of their second meeting with Delbarton and the Green Wave's only tie of the season, which occurred back in December.

"Before the third period, our coach told us, "All we need is one,' " Eustace senior forward Kevin Harding said. "He said it would come if we kept working, but it never did."

Reach Sean McCann at smccann@courierpostonline.com