WAYNE — The line of Davis Flusche, Tyler Kopff and Mason Schick has been a work in progress. The Ridgewood trio didn’t come together until late in the preseason and with almost a week between games it’s been tough to generate rhythm.
But one heart beats louder as the line came together in unison — accounting for three goals and five assists — as the Maroons of Ridgewood skated to a 5-0 victory over Ramapo Raiders at The Ice Vault in Wayne.
Flusche set the tone 4:25 into the game, set up Luke Kubokowski for another goal in the second before connecting again 4:22 into the third to finish with two goals and an assist. Kopff’s playmaking skills were evident with three assists while Schick also pounded the back of the net and set up another as Ridgewood’s offensive prowess was on full display.
“The more we play together, the better we’re going to get,” Flusche said. “Where we like the puck, where we want to be… the more we practice, we’re going to get better and better each game.”
“It’s derived from speed and quick puck movement,” Kopff said. “It feels great to come out hard here and put up five against these guys. We’ve been practicing hard together. It’s a great feeling. Our first big win of the year.”
Nate Loughlin stood tall steering aside all 21 shots he faced for his second-career shutout for Ridgewood (2-1), whose last game was a 6-2 win over Old Tappan on Dec. 2.
“They’ve known each for quite a bit but they’ve been in and out of the lineup,” Ridgewood coach Michael Lucchesi said. “Davis is coming off a great soccer season and he’s missed a few, but their friendship is awesome so there’s natural chemistry between them.
“Watching it,” Lucchesi said, “it’s special right now.”
Ramapo won three games last year — three — en route to a 3-20 finish in head coach Mike McLachlan’s first season at the helm. But with a 2-1 victory over Wayne the night before, the Raiders have already equaled last year’s total in just two weeks.
Coming off a big high on Friday night and facing a fresh Ridgewood team making its first start in seven days, there was bound to be a letdown for the Raiders (3-3).
“Emotionally, a big win last night as the underdog we were a little drained,” McLachlan said. “The kids were a little off. They were tired. Riding a three-game winning streak, sometimes to keep the emotions in check it gets a little tricky to bring them back and say, ‘Look, this is what we have to do. This is the team we’re facing now.’ An emotional 24 hours, a big of a letdown game which will happen from time to time but as a team we’re growing.”
After Flusche broke the ice 4:25 into the game, Alex LeMoine scored 1:26 later as Ridgewood struck fast and furious from the drop of the puck.
“We wanted to get on them early knowing they played a tough one last night,” Lucchesi said. “We stressed getting off to a fast start. I know every hockey coach will say that but it meant a little more tonight. We were fresh coming into the game and they had a big one last night so it was important to get after them this early.”
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Flusche heeded his coach’s advice.
“It was definitely very important to get off to a quick start,” Flusche said. “It helps build momentum you can carry throughout the game. We got the first couple and kept it rolling.”
A 2-0 lead after one period of play gave way to a testy second frame that produced four minor penalties as both Bergen County powers went head-to-head. Ramapo’s Joe Vocca beat one defender then another for a partial break in on Loughlin, but his shot sailed high.
It remained a two-goal game for most of the second period until Flusche and Kopff set up Kubokowski to make it 3-0 with 5:43 remaining. Kopff set up Flusche for his second goal of the game 4:22 into the third before Schick capped the scoring from Kopff and Dylan Bronowich with 6:51 left.
Despite being up by two, Ramapo outshot Ridgewood 11-9 in the first period, something Loughlin was well aware of in between the pipes.
“During games, I try not to worry about the shot count, I don’t watch the scoreboard, I’m watching and reacting to the game,” said Loughlin, who also has a shutout over West Essex to his credit. “Shutouts are special. It’s always a team effort and I love celebrating with the guys, especially after wins like that.”
“Ramapo had a lot of talent and speed up front, but we did a good job of putting the puck behind them,” Kopff said. “We had a tough forecheck going, getting pucks to the net. It feels great to come out with another big win.”
Consecutive wins over West Milford, West Essex and Wayne signals a turnaround for the Raiders, a welcome sight for for the Ramapo faithful.
“The leadership in the room is a little different this year,” Ramapo senior captain Dante Puleo said. “Upperclassmen are taking a big step this year, showing the underclassmen the ropes, and despite this game tonight I think we’ve been playing the way we want to play this season. We’re getting down and dirty. We’re not the most talented team but we can work hard and now we’re getting some wins out there. That’s what we really pride ourselves on.”
Puleo says last year’s growing pains are paying big dividends this season.
“Last year was a big transition year, coach McLachlan’s first year, but this year we’re a little more acclimated,” Puleo, with three assists in six games, said. “Personally, I took a big step in this room and everything has fallen into place. We still feel a few of these games we left out on the ice, we couldn’t bring it home, but it’s been a good start for Ramapo and we’re going to keep it rolling.”
Ridgewood is coming off a 10-13 season. The Maroons won an at-large bid, shut out Scotch Plains in the first round before getting shut out by Livingston in the second round of the NJSIAA Public B state tournament.
“Our goal is always to win the league,” Lucchesi said. “The last two games we’re starting to build a little chemistry together. Our young defensemen are starting to get more comfortable with pucks on their sticks. They’re starting to make better decisions. So it’s coming together a little bit. Kids are working hard.”
“Looking forward to the rest of the year,” Flusche said. “Anytime you get a win like this you want to celebrate that. It’s always a good thing and something to build on.”
Written by John Christian Hageny / @JCCSPORTS
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