Eustace ties Delbarton, settles for moral victory

DENISE HENHOEFFER/Courier-Post
Bishop Eustace goalie Nick Casella makes the save against Delbarton's Kenny Agostino in the first period of Friday's game.


BISHOP EUSTACE 1 DELBARTON 1
Turning point: Bishop Eustace senior Al Wooley tied the game with 9:44 left in the second period when he put home the puck off a scramble in front of the net.

Key players: Crusaders junior goalie Nick Casella stopped 36 shots, including two in the final 12 seconds to preserve the tie.

Did you know? In the latest state ice hockey rankings by the Star Ledger, St. Augustine is ranked No. 1, Delbarton is ranked No. 2 and Bishop Eustace is No. 3.


 


 
Saturday, December 15, 2007
By KEVIN CALLAHAN
Courier-Post Staff
 

PENNSAUKEN

Afterwards, the players on the Bishop Eustace Prep School ice hockey team pounced over the boards and bounced onto the ice to hug and high-five their goalie Nick Casella.

The peppy scene sure made it look like the Crusaders defeated powerful Delbarton on Friday at the Flyers Skate Zone. And, it sure felt that way for the Eustace players.

After all, Delbarton is ranked No. 2 in the state and had just beaten the Crusaders just six days earlier.

So, the 1-1 tie in a Gordon Conference game embraced the feel of a win for Bishop Eustace, which is ranked No. 3.

Interestingly, St. Augustine is ranked No. 1.

"South Jersey as a region has stepped up," Eustace coach Mike Green said afterward. "St. Augustine is No. 1, we are No. 3, so we are excited to be in this position. But we didn't want to take that for granted. The No. 2 team came in here and we didn't want to waste it."

Playing Delbarton to a deadlock really, though, isn't a surprise since Eustace posted a 4-3 season-opening win against fourth-ranked Seton Hall Prep. It was the Crusaders' first-ever victory over the North Jersey power.

Delbarton (4-1-1 overall and in the league) came to the Crusaders' home ice in first place in the Gordon. Eustace is now 1-1-1 in the division and 3-1-1 overall.

The Crusaders' only loss was to Delbarton 3-1 last Saturday in a game they fell behind 2-0 in the first period.

"That two-hour bus ride put us on our heels," senior winger Anthony Mariani said. "Playing here, in front of our home crowd, meant a lot. It is not so much the long drive, it is we play better at home."

Even with the long ride, Delbarton jumped ahead on a first-period goal by Charles Nerbak.

Bishop Eustace senior center Al Wooley tied the game with 9:44 left in the second period.

"This shows we are here to stay in the Gordon Conference," said senior left wing Kevin Harding, who is on the top line with Wooley and sophomore right wing Jamie Hill. "No one thought much of us, but we are here to make a name for ourselves. Now they will take notice."

The swift start by the surging Crusaders might seem like a surprise to those outside the program since Eustace was 11-8-1 season, including a season-ending quarterfinal loss to Bergen Catholic. In addition, Bishop Eustace was elevated to the elite nine-team Gordon Conference this season -- the top league in the state which now also includes top rival St. Augustine. The Hermits won their first state title last season with a 23-0 record.

"Many people thought we moved up because St. Augustine moved up and we wanted to keep the rivalry," Mariani said, "but we are here to stick around."

Both Bishop Eustace and St. Augustine moved from the Red Division of the Southern Conference into the Gordon Conference, which teams automatically qualify for the state tournament.

The win over Seton Hall and the tie against Delbarton are especially uplifting since preseason rankings dipped Eustace at the bottom of the division.

"Our program had never beaten Seton Hall or Delbarton," Mariani said.

The Crusaders were able to make the tie against Delbarton feel like a win because Casella stopped 36 shots.

"I don't mind seeing a lot of shots because I know the defense is there to clear the rebounds," Casella, a junior, said. "So I don't feel like I'm saving that many shots."

Casella was quick to credit defensemen Dylan Lamorte, Zach Green, Tom Lynch and Conor O'Kane.

But, it was all Casella in the final 12 seconds as he stopped two close shots.

"It was a little nerve-racking," Casella said about the frantic finish. "But that deep into the game I am prepared to take shots and come up big." Reach Kevin Callahan at kcallahan@courierpostonline.com