MORRIS TOWNSHIP — Kevin Murphy understood that open ice would be at a premium for much of the 45 minutes of hockey.
But the junior defenseman found a rare opening midway through the third period and delivered a decisive power-play goal as Mount Olive-Hopatcong-Hackettstown forged a 2-1 victory over Haas Division rival Mountain Lakes-Boonton at Mennen Arena.
Murphy batted down an attempted clearing pass on the blue line in the middle of the ice, took three quick strides and launched a rising snap shot that sailed true and settled in the twine with 8:36 left, snapping a 1-1 deadlock. Carson Heller was awarded an assist on the winner.
“I was just trying to make a play and play hard,” said Murphy, who now has 15 points on seven goals and eight assists this season. “I wasn’t thinking of doing something complicated on the goal, I just batted down the puck and saw I had some room. Mountain Lakes trapped us really well and took away the middle of the ice. They clogged us up, so when I got that chance I had to get a shot on net. I came in a bit and was looking top shelf.”
Mount Olive improved to 9-6-2 and the victory guaranteed the Marauders a berth in the NJSIAA tournament.
With the cutoff looming on Feb. 5, teams need to have a .500 record or above for an automatic berth. The Marauders have three games left before the cutoff date.
It also marked the second straight one-goal triumph for Mount Olive. Last week, the Marauders took a 3-2 victory on Joe Salvia’s game-winning goal as the buzzer sounded.
This time, it nearly worked in the opposite direction, however, as Mountain Lakes was awarded a power play with 1:23 left.
With a face-off in the Mount Olive zone, the Lakers pulled goalie David Cochran (27 saves) for a 6-on-4 advantage. But Mount Olive senior goalie Brendan Wakefoose, who finished with 30 saves, turned aside several Mountain Lakes attempts over the final 50 seconds, including a point-blank stop with two seconds left, and junior forward Blake Corbett blocked another shot from the point to preserve the lead.
“They had a power play and had pulled their goalie, so I knew I had to really stay focused,” said Wakefoose. “I was thinking about how many seconds were on the clock and how I had to keep the lead. They had that last shot at the buzzer and it was a great shot. I was able to get down and stop it at the right post.
“In the third period we had to stick to our play and be patient because Mountain Lakes was checking really well. We wait until some open ice came up in the middle and Kevin (Murphy) was able to get it. It was a great goal for him. This win qualifies us for the state tournament, so we were looking at it as a win.”
Mountain Lakes (7-8) trapped methodically and disrupted Mount Olive’s speed through the middle. The Lakers played a solid game but were unable to secure the victory in the end.
“They’ve got some guys who can skate and score, and we definitely wanted to limit that,” said Mountain Lakes coach Clint McDonough. “We had that power play at the end and we generated some chances, but it didn’t quite work out the way we wanted. We played well, and we thought we could pull this one out. We have to win three of our five games before the cutoff to qualify for the state tournament.”
Mountain Lakes erased a 1-0 deficit in the second after Adam Shmanske’s unassisted tally off a turnover in the offensive end squared it with 8:25 remaining.
“It was a turnover high in the slot and I got the puck in a good spot and went top corner,” said the senior forward. “We played our system well and had them defended pretty good for most of the game. At the end we thought we had it. We were confident we would tie it up. Now, we have to win three out of our next five games to make the state tournament. That’s the goal.”
After gaining the equalizer in the second, the Lakers later successfully killed off a two-minute Mount Olive five-on-three advantage that began with 2:56 left on the clock. It looked like a momentum swing as Mountain Lakes skated into the third in a 1-1 draw.
“We thought we could ride that five-on-three penalty kill into the third,” McDonough said. “We thought we won the second period overall.”
Mount Olive, which extended its winning streak to three games, jumped to a 1-0 lead with 3:23 left in the opening period after Blake Corbett finished a rush with an unassisted snap shot from the right circle. It was the junior forward’s 19th goal of the season and the 101st point of his career.
“It was another even game and in the final minute it was hectic,” said Mount Olive coach Mike Behre, who also praised assistants Steve Peraino and Greg Sanchez. “Mountain Lakes is good. We knew they would have something extra and would want revenge for us winning the close one last week. They clog up the middle of the ice very well and it’s tough to generate off the rush against them. They were able to bottle us up.”
“I thought Kevin Murphy would bury that shot when he had the chance. He has given us some big offense for us this season, and Brendan Wakefoose had a very big game for us. He was great. The big thing was this was our ninth win. We’re state qualified.”
Written by Paul Bruno / @PaulBrunoHS
Special to HockeyClan
Main Image: Michael Eramian (#12) of Mountain Lakes-Boonton battles for a loose puck after a draw against Mount Olive at Mennen Arena in Morris Township on January 24, 2018. (Paul Bruno/HockeyClan)
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