SOMERSET — In a game featuring four lead changes, 68 shots on goal and 10 penalties totaling 23 minutes in the box, Hillsborough and Bridgewater-Raritan were still in a festive mood.
Twice Bridgewater fell behind and twice it came back, erasing a deficit for the second time in the game with three unanswered goals in the third — two off the stick of Jake Goldstein — en route to a 6-4 win over Hillsborough in the Protec Ponds Holiday Tournament.
“We just said to ourselves, ‘Get pucks to the net and keep grinding for those rebounds,'” Goldstein said. “Honestly, I just drove the net hard, tried to find the puck and bury it.
“This was just like our last game — it’s always hard-hitting, fast-paced, high-scoring,” Goldstein said. “Every time we see (Hillsborough), it’s a close game. We’ll probably see them again for the Skyland Conference.”
After skating to a deadlock, 4-4, tie in their previous meeting on Dec. 14, both teams had an ax to grind as sticks, checks and dirty looks were served with reckless abandon before coming back for more.
Hillsborough drew first blood just 43 seconds into the rematch as Jason Wolff fed Jude Kurtas to make it 1-0, but Ben Conover and Jake Gottlieb scored power-play goals 1:19 apart as Bridgewater-Raritan took a 2-1 lead into the first intermission.
In a wild, high-flying second period, Hillsborough regained the lead with three straight goals from Wolff, Kurtas and Domenick Mazzaferro in span of 34 seconds to build a 4-2 advantage.
Wolff took a pass off the boards before unloading a slapshot from point-blank range which rang off the right post at 7:22 before Kurtas swooped in and fired top corner, glove-side at 7:08. Just 20 seconds off the ensuing face-off, Mazzaferro banged one home with assists from Mike Jandoli and Mike LoRicco at the 6:48 mark.
Although Bridgewater cut it to 4-3 when Brett Locker scored on a nifty backhander in close with 58.1 left, Hillsborough still skated into the second intermission with the lead.
As the stakes rose in the third, however, big hits and penalties also increased.
“After a big hit on two of our best players, we kind of shied away from getting the puck in those dirty areas,” Wolff said. “The chemistry of our line, the willingness to go for the puck and skate hard to get through guys… After a slow start, we had a very nice second period before letting off the gas pedal in the third. Penalties… penalties killed us.”
Hillsborough was assessed six minors, including a five-minute major, which opened the door for Bridgewater-Raritan in the third.
Gottlieb scored his second of the game on the power play to tie it at 8:05 before Goldstein gave his team its second lead of the game on another goal with the man-advantage just 53 seconds later, staring down the opposition’s bench each time.
“Goldstein, Gottlieb and Locker — they’re a nightmare to coach against,” Hillsborough coach Chris Tommins said. “They always seem to want the puck and will do anything to get it. It’s a coach’s dream to have a line like that but also a nightmare when you see them three times a year.
“We had them on the ropes,” Tommins said, “but we couldn’t go for the knockout punch.”
With their goalie pulled in favor of an extra attacker, Goldstein, who finished with two goals and three assists, found an empty net with 19 seconds left to cap the scoring.
“The second period we decided to step it up, decided to play, but in the third we gave up and that’s what led to the loss,” Kurtas, who scored twice and assisted on a third, said. “When we work as a team, when we don’t take penalties, we score four power-play goals and it’s a 4-1 game, us.”
Bridgewater-Raritan out-shot Hillsborough 48-20, including 20-3 in the third period.
Brandon Myers yielded four goals on nine shots before being relieved by Matt Flaim, who turned aside all 11 shots he faced as Bridgewater-Raritan improves to 4-3-2.
“We played them earlier and came back,” Gottlieb said. “This team shows a lot of heart when it comes to the third period. I don’t think there’s a team better. We’re going to find a way to win.”
“It’s kind of been the story of our season,” Bridgewater-Raritan coach Pat Alvin said. “We’ve taken leads into the second period only to watch them evaporate in the third and we’ve had numerous games where we’ve had to come from behind. We’ve got a resilient crew here. It all starts with good leadership and Brett Locker is the vocal leader in there. It’s nice to beat Hillsborough to get the tournament started.”
Goaltender Danny Volonnino stood tall with 42 saves for Hillsborough (2-5-2).
“We are not as bad as our record shows,” added Tommins, who played for Alvin at Bridgewater from 2003-’07, including an appearance in the 2007 NJSIAA Public A finals against Randolph. “We have some injuries, one of our top D-men was hurt last week and didn’t play. We have been using forwards on the back end and they are learning on the fly. I believe once we start to click on all cylinders and play a full 45-minute game we will go on a roll and make some noise.
“But today, we shot ourselves in the foot with penalties at the wrong time,” Tommins said. “We have done it all year long. We take selfish penalties which cost us two-to-four goals a game. We need to control the things we can and it will all fall into place. I know what these kids are capable of. You see it in spurts. We need to put it together for a full game.”
The round-robin holiday tournament which also included Pope John, Ridge, Southern and West Morris continues again Wednesday and Friday at Protec Ponds in Somerset.
Written by John Christian Hageny / @JCCSPORTS
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