NEWARK — Morris Hills was down but never out.
Yielding the first goal, the Rockaway school tied it in the second before coming through with three goals in the third off the sticks of Joseph Rabeno, James Betz and Dominick Rossi, while goalie Evan Akeson made 18 saves, to come back to defeat Newark East Side, 4-2, at the Barnabas Health Hockey House in Newark.
Newark East Side struck first when Diego Martinez’ shot from the circle trickled through traffic, bodies and sticks before rolling just past Akeson. The power-play goal, 4:16 into the second period assisted by David Dos Santos and Luis Martinez, caught Morris Hills off-guard.
“I think they caught us by surprise a little bit,” Morris Hills’ coach Sam DeMarco said. “They came out hard, skated hard and some of our guys were not anticipating that. We got a scare real quick, but I’m proud of them. They turned it around and picked up the pace.”
Morris Hills stuck back 4:41 later when Rabeno tapped his first of two goals past Newark East Side goalie Matt Villacis. The game-tying goal, assisted by Greg Galofaro with 6:03 left in the middle frame, sent both teams tied, 1-1, heading into the second intermission.
Rabeno and his line of Betz and Galofaro went back to work in the third period and delivered the go-ahead goal 3:21 into the third when he ripped a shot home from the top of the circle to give Morris Hills a lead it would not relinquish.
“I got a good opportunity, the puck was out in front and I couldn’t ask for anything better and just poked it in,” Rabeno said of his first marker. “Great play by winger, James Betz, to get me the puck right off the boards. It was a 2-on-1, the goalie came out so far, my shot was either going to miss the net or it was going in.”
Betz added an insurance goal with 2:17 to go in the third before Rossi connected again 36 seconds later to make it 4-1.
“We just have to keep us the positivity,” Betz said. “We started off well but got a little down. It was tough, but with our coach’s influence, we stuck together, scored a couple goals and came back and won. We just have to keep pushing it.”
Newark East Side (1-5) never stopped battling until the final buzzer and cut its deficit to two when Matt Atehortua buried another one with 51.1 seconds remaining in regulation.
“We’re trying to play hockey and it’s fun playing,” Vallacis, who finished with 17 saves, said. “We made some mistakes, everyone did, even I did, but we’re enjoying it. We have to take some things out and work hard in practice. By 2018, we want to turn this around and win our division. That’s what we’re hoping. That’s what we’re playing for.”
Martinez is ready to win now.
“It’s all about executing,” said Martinez, who gave Newark East the lead at 10:44 of the second period. “I saw David pick up the puck in the corner. He always tells me you’re a baseball player, you have good hand-eye coordination, so I stepped in front, put my stick in the way, tipped it and it knuckled in — goal!”
Newark East Side coaches Keith Veltre, Dennis Ruppe and Mike Liu are revitalizing a hockey program that began in 1973. With their hard work and dedication, a new generation of kids in Newark are learning the greatest game on ice.
“At the end of the day, we’re in the game,” Newark East Side coach Keith Veltre said. “We’re in a competitive game. It’s an experience. They’re kids might have 300 games under their belt. Our kids have 30 games under their belt, but they’re working hard and learning a lot.”
Rabeno finished with two goals for Morris Hills, which also got a goal and an assist from Betz and Rossi to improve to 2-5 this season.
“This is a special place to play down here,” DeMarco added. “We only come down here once a year. Newark always comes to us and plays hard, they have a good team and a good coaching staff, we owe it to ourselves to come out and play the way we’re supposed to play and work as hard as we can.”
Written by John Christian Hageny / @JCCSPORTS
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