By ANDRE WATSON
Mike Weber doesn't get many chances like the one he had in Friday's Southern Conference Red Division ice hockey game against Toms River North.
It just doesn't happen.
Weber's a defenseman for Bishop Eustace and rarely -- if ever -- gets a chance to shoot the puck. So when it trickled out to him with 2:24 left in the third period, he didn't hesistate.
"I'm not the type of guy that gets a lot of shots," Weber said. "Those are the kind of opportunities that you look for during the game. So when I get a shot, I'm hoping to take advantage of it."
Weber fired a slap shot past a diving Dan Labbate, breaking a 1-1 tie, as Bishop Eustace edged Toms River North 2-1. The Crusaders avenged a loss to the Mariners earlier in the season and clinched a playoff berth in the process as well.
"I knew Toms River North was a good team and our division is tight," Bishop Eustace coach Mike Green said. "They had beaten us at their place and the talent they have concerned me."
The Crusaders (10-4-2) have been on a tear the past couple of weeks, going 6-0-2 in their last eight games -- including wins over powerhouse teams such as St. Augustine Prep, St. Peter's Prep and a tie against Malvern Prep (Pa.) on Wednesday. Green admitted, however, he was a little afraid of how his team would react physically, given the grueling schedule they've played in recent weeks.
"The fatigue factor was a concern," Green said. "Because of the emotional energy it takes to win on the road and tie a team like Malvern Prep, it takes a lot out of you. You don't have the opportunity to practice because you're playing so much. That part concerned me."
The Crusaders came out a little flat in the first period, as the Mariners appeared to be the aggressors on offense and outshot Bishop Eustace 13-7 in the process. But the Crusaders' defense held firm, killing multiple powerplay chances for the Mariners.
Toms River North, however, final broke through in the second period when Anthony Labbate stickhandled the puck through the legs of a Crusader defender and blasted a shot past Bishop Eustace goalkeeper Colin Saltiel.
Kevin Grunther's goal with 3:21 left in the second period gave the Crusaders momemtum, but the Mariners did have their chances.
After the goal, the Crusaders received what looked to be a costly penalty, when Al Wooley was called for tripping with about five minutes left in the game. He agonized in the penalty box, watching helplessly as the Crusaders tried to hold.
"I got beat and I tripped the kid going to the net," Wooley said. "I thought it would be better for us to get the penalty and kill it, rather than let him score. But I haven't talked to coach about the penalty. I'm hiding from him."
Green wasn't upset with the penalty.
"I wasn't upset with Al," Green said. "At the end of the game, if you're killing a penalty it gives you an opportunity to ice the puck.
"I didn't think it was a bad penalty. It was a penalty out of effort and when a guy makes a penalty out of effort, as a coach you just have to tell the guys to go kill it."
Reach Andre Watson at (856) 486-2424 or email@example.com