OLD BRIDGE — It may have been a combination of foggy bottom and soggy bottom as far as the elements were concerned at the Arena in Old Bridge on Friday morning.
Nevertheless, James Fay buried a second-period power-play goal, Chris Faile added an even-strength tally in the third and Dan McEvoy turned aside all 19 shots to send Howell to a 2-0 victory over Old Bridge in the championship of the sixth annual John Piccolo Old Bridge Winter Classic.
It marked the second straight year that Howell (5-5) claimed the tournament title as the Rebels extended their winning streak to two games. Howell downed Paul VI, 4-1, in the first round on Thursday. Howell defeated Old Bridge, 3-1, exactly one year ago (Dec. 28, 2017) in the previous final.
Old Bridge, which edged Bernards, 2-1, in its first-round match, is 2-6.
The conditions were not overly conducive to fast-paced hockey – with the rain and warmer temperature causing some fog and slow ice at the half-outdoor rink – but both clubs were able to battle through that nuisance and deliver a hard-fought contest.
“The boys brought it today,” said Fay, a sophomore forward. “We moved the puck pretty well despite the ice. It was very foggy and the ice was sticking a lot. At times you couldn’t really see the other end of the ice that well. But we were able to battle through it and get a win.”
Fay helped deliver the final outcome when he drifted down low weak-side and buried a deft cross-slot feed from James Bianco for a power play goal and a 1-0 Howell lead 52 seconds into the second period. Dylan Kramer also picked up an assist on the goal.
“I was getting a little nervous after the first period that it was still scoreless,” Fay said. “We had chances but it was a close game. When we got that power play I knew we had to get one. The backdoor was open and James saw me and I just finished it. It was textbook. Once we got that first goal we just kept pushing.”
It was Fay’s fifth goal on the season.
Howell later had a five-on-four advantage after a boarding call, but Old Bridge junior goalie Dylan Schroeder turned in a magnificent performance at his end, turning aside 19 of 20 shots in the second period to keep the deficit to one goal.
“Howell is always been a good team that has a lot of good shooters, so I was expecting a lot of shots,” Schroeder, who finished with 39 saves overall. “I always get nervous the first few minutes of a game but once I get the first two or three saves I get settled in and the better I feel. I didn’t even know it was a five-minute penalty until about three minutes were already passed, but I was pretty tired after we killed it off. It was hot out there and we had to conserve our energy.”
Old Bridge, out-shot 20-2 in the second period and 32-9 through 30 minutes-hung in behind Schroeder and came back in the third period with more energy. The Knights produced much more offensive zone time and threw 10 shots at McEvoy in the third in trying to get the equalizer.
McEvoy made a huge stop off a point-blank shot from Chris Kennedy with 12:45 left in the third to preserve Howell’s one-goal advantage.
But Faile extended Howell’s advantage to 2-0 when he stole the puck just outside the Old Bridge blue line, darted in and scored on a shot glove-side for an unassisted tally with 8:10 left in the game.
Overall, Howell finished with a 41-19 advantage in shots.
From his vantage point behind the Howell bench, coach Bill Daley was aware of the slow ice conditions.
“It was hot and the puck kept sticking out there but the boys played through it and played a tight game to the end,” he said. “It means a lot. It’s like a playoff atmosphere and to come back and win back-to-back championships here is great. We know their goalie is solid so out game plan was to keep the pressure on. Get as many shots as we can and crash the net and eventually something would go in. It’s a lot of fun playing in this tournament. It was a lot fun and a great win for us.”
Still, Daley admitted the outcome was never settled until seconds before the final horn sounded.
“Old Bridge is a well-coached team and they always play tough against us. Even when we got that second goal we knew that lead wasn’t safe against Old Bridge. They never quit. I guess when there was about 10 seconds left we finally relaxed and knew it was over.”
Dylan Schroeder, Old Bridge Goaltender, Player Interview
Old Bridge Winter Classic Tournament Champions
Written by Paul Bruno / @PaulBrunoHS
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