TOMS RIVER — Hockey is a sport defined with unpredictable bounces. Any team in a bit of a scoring funk knows all it takes is one player to find the touch and it becomes contagious.
Robbinsville got the scoring started early Friday afternoon with a pair of goals from Jason Gallucci and Shane Martin and the rest of the team got on board in an 8-3 triumph over host Central Regional at Winding River Rink in Toms River.
“We worked together well today, we put all our systems together and worked really hard as a team,” Martin said. “We did a really great job on the power play, same thing with the penalty kill — everything all around we played a great game.”
“It’s just us supporting each other as a team more and more,” said Gallucci, who finished with two goals and an assist. “We worked hard, the compete level was there and we started bonding as a team more. We started moving the puck, cycling around the net. It was a good win.”
After a season-opening 6-1 victory over Lawrence/Hightstown/Ewing, the Ravens offense went dormant for a four-game stretch in which they lost two and tied two, scoring only eight times including a 4-4 tie in their last contest with Hopewell Valley.
Friday seemed to be a change of fortune for Robbinsville/Allentown co-op, which got the scoring fast and often for spurts to cruise past Central Regional of Bayville.
Robbinsville (2-2-2) received aide via a pair of goals from Gallucci and Martin as well as three-point nights from Mitch Ducalo and Charlie Pallitto. Senior goaltender Justin Cooper was up to the challenge as well, stopping 30 shots that the Golden Eagles fired his way. Cooper shut down Central each time they generated a flurry of attack and seemed to be gravitating the momentum over to them.
Central Regional’s Patrick Price tallied two for his squad and sophomore goalie Nicholas Bilinski was valiant in net, stopping 37-of-45 shots he faced. Matt Condello was credited with the other Central score, and Dom Competello and Kyle Schweighardt each had an assist.
But the true highlight of the contest was the near-perfect puck movement that the Ravens employed all night. The 45 shots would be the expectation of a team that fires low percentage shots on cage and hopes for a lucky bounce, but this was not the case for Robbinsville.
From the opening puck drop, the passing was surgical, leading to numerous scoring chances in an attempt to break the ice and get the recently mute offense going again.
Seven minutes into the opening stanza, it appeared Robbinsville would do just that when Pallitto threw a pass in front of net from the right goal line that hopped over the stick of Ducalo, who failed to stash it from in close with a half-open net.
While many teams in an offensive rut would get discouraged and accept that that was their luck, the play only seemed to ignite Robbinsville.
With Central a man down following an elbowing call, the Ravens set up for their first power play of the game and made the most of it.
Ducalo fired a pass across the ice where Gallucci, a freshman, collected it off the end-board and skated it into the high slot and fired a shot that tickled twice. The goal lit a spark for Gallucci who connected again just a few moments later on a similar play to make it 2-0. This time, carrying the puck into the high slot before rocketing a laser over the goalies blocker and into the top-left corner of the net, giving his squad a two-goal lead in the blink of an eye.
“I thought our team played a very disciplined game tonight,” Robbinsville coach Rob Davis said. “And that was something we’ve been struggling with the last few games. Staying disciplined was leading us down a path this team didn’t want to be on but they started to turn it around tonight.”
In the dying minutes of the first period, Robbinsville finally got that unpredictable bounce they strived for, opening the floodgates for the offense when Martin collected the puck in the neutral zone and skated in with it just from inside his own blue line. Trying to pass up to one of his teammates waiting to enter the zone, the puck ricocheted off a Central defenseman’s skate and hopped toward the goal and in.
“At first, I was thinking dump it in. I was out there for two minutes at that time and needed a change,” Martin, describing his second goal of the game, said. “But then I saw their defender tip it, their goaltender slid and then put his head down. I was like, ‘Did I score?‘ Then everybody started coming toward me (to celebrate). I was so surprised, ‘How did that happen?‘
The bizarre play was microcosm to all the nifty plays the Ravens made in the opening period that didn’t find the back of the twine.
With the period winding down, Price poked home a goal on a net-front scramble to give the Eagles a bit of life heading into the first intermission to cut the deficit to 3-1.
Cooper had his best sequence of the game in the opening minutes of the second period, stopping numerous chances that Central carried over to the next frame as well as a power play opportunity.
Sophomore Ty Thomas put a stop to the momentum, scoring his first goal of the year on a 4-on-3 advantage 6:39 into the period, but Price once again cut the Central deficit to two by scoring off a quick shot with 6:09 to play in the second period.
The Ravens closed out the scoring in the second on a goal from Pallitto from a tight pass by Liam Hartmann from below the left circle with just over four minutes to play.
Robbinsville went back to work in the third when Ducalo found the net for the third Robbinsville power-play goal of the game on a chip over the right shoulder of the goalie after streaking down the left wing. Ducalo and Martin each added their second goals of the game in the final minutes of the game with Martin’s second marker accounting for the fourth power-play goal for the Ravens on the night.
“Last year the camaraderie was pinnacle,” Davis added, “and I think this team is starting to find that now.”
“I’m proud of the way our team played,” Central Regional coach Joseph Pelliccio said. “Regardless of the score or penalty situations we kept skating. We are a very young team starting four freshmen and several sophomores including our goalie. Robbinsville is a strong co-op. They have speed and can move the puck. They crashed the net really hard, but we played very hard and are getting stronger every game.”
Pelliccio was pleased with the way Central Regional kept battling.
“Pat Price had two goals for us and can be a force at the high school level,” Pelliccio said. “And senior captains Matt Condello and Gabe Forlenza are our workhorses who never quit. We are missing a starting defenseman in Mark Competello so Brady Steller, Anthony Mastriano and freshman Will Maguire are getting a ton of ice time minding the blue line.”
Robbinsville will turn their attention back to the Colonial Valley Conference, where they will take to Mercer County Rink Monday night at 8:15 p.m. to take on Notre Dame.
Central Regional (0-4-1), still in search of their first win this season,will try to get it Monday at 7:30 p.m. when they host Monroe Township at Winding River.
Great team effort tonight!! HARD HAT winner goes to Mitch Ducalo!!! ????? pic.twitter.com/R6LvZtjJyk
— Ravens Ice Hockey (@hockey_ravens) December 14, 2018
Written by Casey J. Krish / @CaseyKrish
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