WALL TOWNSHIP, NJ — With conference tournaments and the 2019 NJSIAA state playoffs fast approaching, Ocean Township continues to hone their craft and try and perfect their game before the start of the postseason.
The tri-op made up of players from Ocean Township, Shore Regional and Monmouth Regional added another victory to its stable Thursday night behind a Kenny Maxwell hat trick as well as a multi-goal performance from Dylan Haar, skating to a 6-3 victory over Watchung Hills at Jersey Shore Arena in Wall.
The special teams play as well as stout defense in their own end playing ahead in the third period sent the Spartans home with a victory in their final tune-up game before the start of the Shore Conference Tournament next coming week.
It was Watchung Hills which put a dent into the scoreboard early with Liam Feeley connecting 1:43 into the contest, but it was Ocean which quickly proved that the first period was going to belong to them.
“It can be a very good test when a team comes at you like that out of the gate,” Ocean Township head coach Dave Smith said about Watchung Hills’ fast and physical start in the opening frame. “You’d much rather have a team come at you like that right away rather than have that come later on. We saw what they could do early on.”
Just 54 seconds after falling behind, Maxwell leveled the playing field by depositing one past Watchung Hills’ goalie Nate Joglekar. The goal would be the first of three the Warriors defense would allow in the span of six minutes, but Joglekar settled down, making 18 saves in the game and keeping Watching Hills within striking distance the whole way.
“It was big for us to get that goal back after the slow start,” Smith said. “It never feels good to give up one that early, but we quickly erased it.”
Maxwell dished off a pass back to the point where Richard Canneto rocketed it through traffic and into the cage to put the Spartans up 2-1 and a lead they would never relinquish.
Maxwell scored his second of his three goals three minutes later on a backhanded roof shot after stealing the puck in the neutral zone and creating a partial breakaway to extend the lead to 3-1, but the Warriors got the tally back when Peter Messineo hit just 24 seconds after to draw back to within one.
“We have been trying to do a better job of defending first and capitalizing when we get a chance on a counter-punch. Tonight was a great example of that, as many of our scores came on those type of opportunities,” Smith commented.
Haar heeded his coach’s advice and took control of the second period, scoring two Ocean Township goals to push the advantage to 5-2 with 3:04 remaining until the intermission. The pair of second-period markers elevated Haar’s career total to 87. The senior now has 138 points to his name after reaching the century mark back in early December.
The mood heading into the locker was slightly dampened, however, when the Warriors’ Cole Hanan scored his team-leading 23rd of the season directly off a faceoff win with just over two minutes to play to cut it to 5-2 after two periods of play.
“We gave them life at the end of the second period,” Smith said of Hanan’s score in the waning moments of the frame. “It was a bit of a soft goal – one of those let-down goals. We knew that teams are going to come at us and we can’t let those type of scores.
“Coach Mike Ryan and I were talking on the bench before that goal, and we thought we were starting to play a bit complacent with the three-goal lead,” Smith continued. “I guess if you want to take a positive out of it – it woke us up heading into the third.”
Without struggle there is no progress and Ocean Township set a new goal for itself in the third period. The Spartans had the lead — all they had to do was defend it.
As anticipated, Watchung Hills came out like a fresh new team in the third, and while the statsheet showed they only fired seven shots over the final 15 minutes of play, the Tribe was successful in applying immense pressure on the Ocean defensive unit as well as freshman goaltender Tony Macaluso.
The Warriors kept cycling the puck around the boards and at the point for a hefty amount of the final stanza, but it was the Ocean defense getting in front of shots, blocking shots, keeping the puck wide of the goalmouth and away from prime scoring areas in its own zone.
“We’ve been trying to impress on these guys that building a lead is so difficult in this game,” Smith said, “and when you have that lead you have to cherish it and if you aren’t able to defend it then you need to go and build it back again.”
Ocean’s penalty-killing unit came up with two big kills in the final six minutes of regulation and went a perfect 5-for-5 on the night, to lead that charge.
Hanan had the best chance of the period when he was in alone with a chance to cut the deficit to 5-4 with plenty of time remaining, but Macaluso, who made 20 saves in the winning effort, was able to disrupt him enough and force a back-handed shot to sail over the crossbar and into the glass behind the goal.
Maxwell completed the hat trick with an empty-netter with 10 seconds left to ice it for the Spartans.
“Tony was tremendous in the third period — and he had to be,” Smith said about his freshman netminder. “He only faced eight shots, but they were all really good quality shots.”
With the triumph, Ocean Township-Shore-Monmouth Regional improves to 12-5-2 and awaits positioning in the upcoming Shore Conference Tournament, while Watchung Hills drops to 7-13-2.
— Lexi (@lexi_farmer123) February 1, 2019
Written by Casey J. Krish / @CaseyKrish
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