Northern Highlands Avenge Early-Season Loss with 4-0 Shutout

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HACKENSACK, NJ — The season hasn’t gone exactly as planned but it’s not too late.

A couple of three-game skids following a memorable training camp in Lake Placid, N.Y. derailed a promising start but it still could be another epic finish for Northern Highlands.

Still stewing over a one-goal loss to fellow Bergen County rival Paramus the second game of the season, the 2018 NJSIAA champions just need to make the cut.

Jake Auerbach snapped a scoreless tie 1:38 into the second period, Jack Di Paolo added a goal and an assist while Jonathan Vitti turned aside all 16 shots he faced as Northern Highlands avenged the earlier-season loss with a 4-0 victory over Paramus-Lyndhurst-Hackensack at The Ice House in Hackensack.

“Yeah, absolutely,” Auerbach said. “Right after that loss it’s been on our minds. Working on the power play in practice to get back here and coming out tonight and getting one and the win was obviously huge. All the hard work paid off — definitely.”

With the victory, Northern Highlands avenges a 4-3 loss on Dec. 5, improves to 5-7-2 and to within a couple games of the .500 record required to qualify for the NJSIAA Tournament. More importantly, the Allendale school is just getting back to full strength welcoming back Di Paolo, a sophomore transfer from Don Bosco Prep, following an earlier-season shoulder injury.

“My first varsity game back from a dislocated shoulder and scoring that first goal of the season is amazing,” said Di Paolo, who delivered the backbreaker, 1:19 into the third period to make it 3-0. “I have been working so hard in practice to make it back and so have the boys, pushing ourselves — we want to make that .500 cut.”

Northern Highlands outshot Paramus 10-1 in the first period, but came away empty thanks to Jonathon Berko in between the pipes. But the Highlanders never stopped attacking and were awarded a power play early in the second frame.

Auerbach cashed in.

“Aidan Connolly is our point guy on the power play. We work on that pass, that shot to me in front. The rush, it all came together,” Auerbach said. “I got the puck in front and I was just lucky to be there and tipped it top shelf. I’m happy it worked.”

Will Fuller made it 2-0 just 4:31 later assisted by Di Paolo. It was more than enough for Vitti, who steered aside all 16 shots he faced for his first shutout of the season.

“Just getting things done,” Vitti said. “Our defensemen, Aidan Connolly, Mason Prugh, locking down, just clearing guys out.

“That first goal took a lot of stress off my shoulders,” Vitti said. “We’re just playing every whistle. It feels great.”

Northern Highlands did a great job of neutralizing Paramus junior forward Anton Safonov, the team leader in goals with 21. After Di Paolo made it 3-0 just over a minute into the third period, Safonov got in behind the Highlanders’ defense and fired a shot that ripped off the crossbar and out of play.

Paramus (10-4-3) fired nine shots in the final frame on Vitti but couldn’t break through. The loss snaps a two-game winning streak for the Spartans.

“We weren’t working as hard as they were. They wanted the puck more than us and they got there before us. We just weren’t ready for this one,” Paramus senior defenseman Ryan Calendrillo said. “We pride ourselves in always being in games, but sometimes bad bounces don’t go your way. We just need to take smarter shots, get shots when we have the opportunity and get pucks through — we had too many blocked.”

“It’s a point repeating, ‘You beat a team the first time, you take them lightly the second time; If you lose, you take them a lot harder the next time,'” Paramus-Lyndhurst-Hackensack head coach Denis Jelcic said. “That’s sports.

“(Northern Highlands) is a good team, they’re well-coached and they’re pinpoint play is exceptional,” Jelcic said. “But I’m proud of my team. They could have bailed in the third period and didn’t.”

Jonathan Vitti had 16 saves and Jake Auerbach, Will Fuller, Jack Di Paolo and Joe DaLoisio scored as Northern Highlands defeated Paramus-Lyndhurst-Hackensack, 4-0, at The Ice House on Feb. 1, 2020 in Hackensack.

Joe DaLoisio capped the scoring with 4:29 remaining in regulation. Jack Sparago and Aldan McGivney picked up assists.

Northern Highlands will look to creep to within a game of .500 with a victory against Tenafly on Monday.

“This game and the last 38 minutes of the Seton Hall game have been by far our best hockey this season,” Northern Highlands coach Jason Beswick said. “We hope to get into states and if we do and play like this we could surprise some people.”

Related: Northern Highlands’ Lake Placid Training Camp

Paramus will put this game in the rearview mirror and focus on upcoming games against Passaic Valley and Old Tappan.

“We need our defensemen and our forwards playing as a unit. Tonight, I saw a lot of separation,” Jelcic said. “We’ll be back with more of a vengeance for sure.”

Northern Highlands has won two of its last three. It will relish this victory and just take it one game at a time. It knows it just has to be in it to win it.

“It just shows the growth of the guys,” Auerbach said. “We have a common goal of making the state playoffs and ultimately winning so it’s just a testament to the guys for all the hard work they put in. It means a lot.”


1-0 NH Jake Auerbach (Aidan Connolly, Mason Prugh) 13:22-2nd PPG

2-0 NH Will Fuller (Jack Di Paolo) 8:51-2nd

3-0 NH Jack Di Paolo (Will Brown) 13:41-3rd

4-0 NH Joe DaLoisio ( Jack Sparago, Aldan McGivney) 4:29-3rd

Shots: 30-16 Northern Highlands; Vitti, NH, 16 saves; Berko, PHL, 26 saves



Written by John Christian Hageny

Special to HockeyClan




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