Two late Eustace tallies send Hermits to loss
Staff photo/Dongjin Choi
VINELAND-- Friday night at the Vineland Ice Arena, the St. Augustine Prep ice hockey team proved it is in the same class as South Jersey's premier hockey program, Bishop Eustace.
In the third period, however, the Crusaders confirmed they are still the team to beat. Tyler Hancock's goal with 1:46 to play broke a 2-2 deadlock and lifted Eustace to a 4-2 victory.
Eustace (10-3, 9-1 Southern Conference Red Division) has beaten the Prep (6-3-1 division) twice this season and holds a firm grasp on the top playoff seed in the division.
"We were just drained out there (in the third period)," St. Augustine center Dominic Morrone said. "We kept pressuring, but it just wasn't there."
Eustace's Tim Purwin set up the game winner, stealing the puck just inside the Prep's blue line. Purwin fired a hard, low shot that was headed just wide of the net. Hancock, however, managed to get a stick on the puck and redirect it over the shoulder of St. Augustine goalie Kevin Healey.
"We made a bad clearing pass and they capitalized on it," St. Augustine coach Ralph Triboletti said. "They are a good hockey team; they know what it takes to win."
Hancock added an empty-net goal with 43 seconds remaining for the final margin.
The Crusaders were the early aggressors, jumping out to one-goal leads in each of the first two periods. Kevin Grunther tallied the game's first goal, finishing a two-on-one rush off a pass from Hancock. Grunther put the Crusaders up 2-1 with 12:41 remaining in the second, beating Healey between the pads on another rush. The line of Grunther, Hancock, and Purwin accounted for all of Eustace's scoring.
"We were chasing them all game," Triboletti said. "We can't play them from behind."
In the first two periods, the Prep was able to counter each Crusaders goal. In the first period, Brain Berklebach stuffed home Rob Baskow's rebound to knot the score at 1-1. With 7:39 left in the second, Bill Choy found Mike Innarato in the slot, who stuffed a shot past Eustace goalie Colin Saltiel.
The Hermits, who were shut out by Saltiel and Eustace, 1-0, earlier this season, were unable to solve Saltiel in the latter stages of Friday's contest. The Crusaders' sophomore came up with countless huge saves to keep the game tied at 2. The biggest came with 3:00 to play. St. Augustine's Chris Ferry fired a high shot after Saltiel had dropped, but the goalie reached over his shoulder and robbed Ferry of a sure goal with a glove save.
"(Saltiel) comes to play when he plays us," Morrone said. "He plays his angles well; we just gotta get more shots on him."
St. Augustine had plenty of opportunities to take the lead, but was unable to capitalize, as they went 0-for-4 on the power play. The Hermits have struggled on the power play all season, Triboletti said, and were unable to generate any quality scoring chances with the man advantage Friday.