WAYNE, NJ — Playing from behind has been the theme for Ramsey all season. Down, but never out, the Rams somehow find a way.
“Our boys bring the fight with them every time we play,” Ramsey coach Jeff Mills said. “We’ve been down in almost every game we’ve played in this year and we’ve done nothing but claw our way back.”
Twice, Ramsey fell behind to Glen Rock in the first round of the Bergen County Tournament and twice the Rams battled back to tie before Chris Kourgelis scored the go-ahead goal just 28 seconds after teammate Tyler Botta tied it in a 3-2 come-from-behind victory over the Panthers at The Ice Vault in Wayne.
“Keep our heads up, get pucks deep, pucks to the net and keep working hard,” said Kourgelis, whose goal with 2:53 left in the second period proved to the game-winner. “It’s big to keep our morale up. Everyone up on the bench rooting everyone on. We just keep the game simple — and it leads to goals.”
The eighth-seeded Rams (10-7), which lost all three games to Glen Rock last season, erased deficits of 1-0 and 2-1 with a pair of goals in the final minutes of the second frame to defeat the ninth-seeded Panthers (7-5-3) for the second time this season.
“We really used our D to our advantage — they were open all game,” Botta, who tied the game at 2-2 the previous shift, said. “We got pucks to the net and buried goals right in front of the net.
“We were working hard down low,” Botta said describing his game-tying goal with 3:21 to go in the second. “(Alex) Diamond was open at the point. He took the shot, I just collected it and put it in — that’s how you got to do it.”
The line remained on the ice and in the blink of an eye cashed in again off a fortuitous bounce off the back of Kourgelis and in for a lead it would not relinquish. Ramsey will take on top-seeded Don Bosco Prep (12-1), No. 1 in The Hockey Night in Boston Top 10, in the tournament semifinals on Friday at 9 pm at The Ice Vault.
Jared Brassil put Glen Rock on the board first, just 5:22 into the game, assisted by Anthony Maurice and Patrick Smith. The goal stood until the waning moments of the opening 15 minutes when Nick Edwards tied it for Ramsey with 2:21 left. Brendan Schwarz and Ryan Matzelle drew assists on the game-tying goal that sent both teams into the first intermission tied at 1-1.
“I was just trying to get to open ice when Mo sauced it over and I put it past their goalie,” Brassil said. “They’re a good team over there. Every time we scored, they were able to respond with a nice push back.”
Glen Rock, 6-1-3 over its last 10 games entering Wednesday night’s tilt, regained the lead when Keaton Carlisle’s shot found a hole, putting the Panthers back in front 7:45 into the second. The advantage was short-lived, however, as a streaking Botta tied it back up at two just 3:54 later. Before Glen Rock could reset, Ramsey struck again 28 seconds off the ensuing faceoff.
“Sometimes, you feel the momentum,” Brassil said. “A couple of lucky bounces and just like that the game’s tied then they took the lead.”
“It’s just unfortunate,” Carlisle said. “Having two lines is tough. Guys get tired. It’s hard to get out to the point and block shots, but (goaltender) Mack Alvino played amazing tonight. He has the past nine games. Have to give him a lot of credit for our success.”
Ramsey, which erased a 2-0 deficit with four unanswered goals en route to a 4-2 triumph in the team’s previous meeting on Dec. 14, never stopped battling. Down one in the late stages of the first period before coming back to tie, the Rams were once again clutch the final minutes before the break, tying, then taking the lead in the second.
“It was huge,” Botta said of the bang-bang goals 28 seconds apart. “We tied it up then the one-goal lead — that was all we needed.”
“We have a group of 20 kids fighting for the same belief,” Mills said. “They’re all fighting together which is great to see and great to watch. The give up a goal, come back to the bench and say, ‘Let’s go boys. Let’s get the next one!’ Nobody is hanging their head. They go right back out there and get the next one.”
“Tyler is a dangerous, dangerous hockey player who skates around on the outside looking for his kill — and that’s absolutely waht you get from him every game,” Mills said. “It feels good. We were 0-for-last year against Glen Rock and 2-0 against them this year. The boys were kind of snake-bitten by Glen Rock last year so it’s nice to beat ’em twice.”
It was a tough loss for Glen Rock coach Dean Portas, who guided Ramsey to the NJSIAA Public B state title in 2016, earning State Coach of the Year honors that season. After being treated unfairly, at best, a year after guiding the Rams to the state title, Portas has found a new home at Glen Rock.
“I think our team played hard. They were resilient,” Portas said. “We had some scoring opportunities and we didn’t bury them but credit to them, they have a strong defensive core over there, some players up front that can hurt you if you don’t neutralize them.
“They did a good job of getting pucks up to their point and we were a little slow getting out to them. That’s where they were able to bury a couple of those goals on us with their point shots. Ramsey was pushing the tempo a little bit, outshooting us in the first. But we settled down and were able to even the ice out a bit.”
Don Bosco Prep has won the Bergen County Tournament every season since its inception in 2012. Don Bosco Prep and Ramsey met in the finals three straight years from 2014-’16. Don Bosco Prep defeated Indian Hills, 6-1, to capture the county title last season.
Written by John Christian Hageny / @JCCSPORTS
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