FLEMINGTON — Cancer is sinister. There may not be a better adjective to describe the disease.
But hockey players are a resilient, rugged and compassionate group of athletes. Selfless skaters, too.
That was proven again tonight when Hillsborough and Ridge hit the ice skating to a 4-4 tie in a memorable contest for a truly admirable cause.
Hillsborough junior forward Jason Wolff rifled home a one-timer near the left dot for a power-play goal with 1:14 left to erase a 4-3 deficit, while teammate Jude Kurtas eclipsed the 100-point plateau in a Hockey Fights Cancer game that won’t soon be forgotten.
Arjun Jain, a courageous 10-year-old Hillsborough student who is battling Leukemia, was on hand to drop the ceremonial first puck before the Skyland Conference foes faced-off at the Flemington Ice Arena in his honor.
“A group of our players heard about Arjun,” Hillsborough coach Chris Tommins, who is donating $2 for every goal his team scores this season to Jain’s cause, said. “They came to me saying they wanted to do something for him to take his mind off the negative and bring the positive and hockey back into his life. We have a lot planned for Arjun and we thought our first home game against a rival is where we start to help in any way we can.”
Mission accomplished with both clubs awarded a gigantic assist.
Jain, who sported a Vegas Golden Knights knit hat and skates with the Protec Ducks, had a special evening indeed.
“I play center and I love it,” Arjun said while standing near the Hillsborough bench with his younger brother, Krish, before dropping the puck with the captains from Hillsborough and Ridge. “I love roaming around the ice.”
Vishal Jain, Arjun’s father, noted how meaningful the atmosphere was for his son.
“For him, hockey makes him smile so much and always cheers him up,” Vishal said. “If he isn’t feeling well and he watches a hockey game, suddenly he’s smiling.”
Arjun had a lot to smile about after the opening draw as Hillsborough rode that emotional momentum and jumped on top, 2-0.
Jude Kurtas struck less than two minutes after the opening faceoff on an assist from Wolff for a 1-0 lead. It was the 100th point of the junior forward’s career. Mike LoRicco extended the lead to 2-0 1:14 later as Brock Forrest and Rob Renner assisted.
But Ridge was not about to be muscled off the ice as Nick DelGaizo and Matt Balzarotti both connected to knot it at 2-2.
Hillsborough (2-0-1) regained the lead with 2:28 left in the first on a goal by Lleyton Soares.
Ridge (2-0-1) battled back again and struck for a pair of goals to take a 4-3 lead in the second. Balzarotti wristed a rising shot blocker side with 10:48 left before DelGaizo tapped in a bouncing puck with 4:18 showing in the second period clock.
“They came out pretty fast to start the game and I think we were a little surprised to be down 2-0 so early,” said DelGaizo. “But we got it going in the second and third and played pretty well. We had some good chances. A point is good, but it was disappointing we weren’t able to close it out and get the win.”
Both goalies were strong following the quick pace as Hillsborough’s Jason LoRicco finished with 34 saves while Marcus Fabiunke halted 24 shots for Ridge.
The outcome looked grim for Hillsborough, which also had to kill off a Ridge power play with 3:45 showing on the clock. But Wolff came through with the late heroics.
“It was a big point for us,” Wolff said after netting his eighth goal of the season. “It was a very big comeback and confidence booster for us. We had a ton of energy after that ceremony with Arjun.”
Please, if you can, Donate! https://t.co/SedeEgQGMq
— HHS Ice Hockey (@Boro_Ice_Hockey) December 6, 2018
“We were working our tails off early to start the game and we thought we could jump on them early and put the pressure on Ridge,” Wolff continued. “We got up 2-0 and maybe we kind of sat back and waited to things to break our way instead of still skating. We put ourselves in a hole, but our goalie was outstanding and it was a big comeback on a special night.”
“Getting that first goal was pretty cool and getting the 100th point was nice,” Kurtas said. “Our comeback was even better, it was awesome. We were able to get that point instead of a loss and we obviously wanted to win the game for Arjun — and that was the biggest part. He’s a great kid and to think about what he’s going through, a 10-year-old with Leukemia. He is obviously going through a lot.”
Ridge’s veteran coach Tim Mullin has seen a lot of hockey games in his 24 seasons at the Somerset County school. As he stood outside his team’s locker room after the final buzzer, Mullin reflected on the bigger picture.
“The ceremony for Arjun was more important than the game,” said Mullin, who is closing in on his 400th career victory. “I don’t think I’ve ever been involved in something like that, so it was really special to be a part of it. It meant a lot to us. It’s pretty amazing what courage he has. It was a great game, too, and it is a neat thing that Hillsborough did tonight.”
Written by Paul Bruno / @PaulBrunoHS
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