FLEMINGTON — Hunterdon Central was already down two goals when Sasha Pace and Noah Motz were sent to the penalty box, setting up Bridgewater-Raritan with a 5-on-3 power play and a chance to blow the game wide open.
“It was gut-check time,” coach Paul Cavanaugh said. “We lost our composure. There was a lot of running around and a lot of finger pointing. To me, that was the turning point in the game.”
Hunterdon Central buckled down and formed a perimeter around goaltender Noah Dominick, killed off the double minors before exploding for five goals in the third period in a dramatic, 6-3, come-from-behind victory over Bridgewater at Flemington Ice Arena.
“We go down 3-0 the game is likely over at that point,” Cavanaugh admitted. “But to kill that off… we got a lot of momentum from that, started moving the puck and started moving our feet.”
Dylan Carvalho and Trevor Meixsell gave Bridgewater a 2-0 lead after one, out-shooting Central 18-13 in a feisty first filled with seven penalties, but James Coussoulle cut the deficit in half in the second to set the stage for a wild comeback in the third.
“Even though we were down 2-1, you could tell we had the momentum,” senior Scott Schnell said. “In our minds we were winning because we outplayed them the whole second period after killing off that 5-on-3.”
Pace redeemed himself setting up Dan Cicala for the game-tying goal 1:53 into the third before finishing off a dandy of a feed from Alex Ahern while Schnell also scored twice during the five-goal outburst from Hunterdon Central in the final frame.
“Penalties were a big part of it — too many early on in the game,” Pace said.
“But after the second, we settled down, kept putting the puck in the net and outscored them the rest of the game.”
Erik Szanto scored Hunterdon Central’s fourth straight goal to stake claim to a 4-2 lead with 9:36 remaining in regulation, but Bridgewater never stopped battling and made it a one-goal game when Meixsell connected on the power play two minutes later with assists from Jake Gottlieb and Brett Locker.
It was a strenuous stretch as the clock wound down in the third as neither Dominick (32 saves) nor Bridgewater’s Matt Flaim (29 saves) would bend until Ahern danced around a couple of defenders in the neutral zone and another at the blue line before dishing off to Pace who made no mistake with 3:56 left.
“There was a pile up in the middle of the ice. Dan chipped it up to Alex and I saw ahead of time I could beat their defenseman,” Pace said. “I called for it and he lasered a pass right on my stick and I deflected it between his blocker and his body for the goal.”
Schnell added Hunterdon Central’s fifth goal of the third on the power play with 1:13 remaining.
“We got off to a really slow start. I don’t think we were mentally prepared to play,” Schnell said. “In the second intermission we went into the locker room, regrouped and reset and got back in the game quick.
“We’re resilient. We never give up,” Schnell said. “We knew we were going to come back in this game. If you knock us down, we’re going to get back up.”
With the win, Hunterdon Central improves to 11-6-2 and stretches its personal unbeaten streak to six against its Skyland Conference rival. Bridgewater-Raritan slips to 11-6-3 in its regular season finale.
“We came out hard. The hype was there,” Meixsell, who finished with two goals and an assist, said. “We took a penalty that came back to haunt us but that shouldn’t have mattered. We still should have came back. We let this one get the best of us but we’re going to see them again, definitely see them again and remember this. They’re going to pay for it.”
“We got a little too caught up in the penalties and got lost in the fog,” Bridgewater assistant coach Steve Diamond said. “We got away from our game plan. Credit to Hunterdon Central which capitalized on the fact we couldn’t see through the fog. They capitalized on just about every mistake we made and that’s a lesson learned. It’s a credit to them, they hung around, kept their poise and kept grinding.”
Written by John Christian Hageny / @JCCSPORTS
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