WEST ORANGE — With Ridgewood’s opportunity for an automatic post-season berth unattainable, the Maroons have their eyes focused on Plan B.
Davis Flusche and Sebastian Samuels each finished with a goal and an assist while Nate Loughlin turned aside all 20 shots he faced as Ridgewood fashioned a 4-0 victory over West Essex-Caldwell at Codey Arena in West Orange.
The decision enabled Ridgewood to close to within two games of the .500 mark at 8-10, with its last regular season game slated against Hillsborough on Feb. 3.
The cutoff for the NJSIAA State Tournament is Feb. 5, with all teams needing a record of .500 or above to earn an automatic bid.
Teams with less than a 50 percent winning percentage, but within four games of .500, may apply for an at-large playoff berth as Ridgewood’s triumph keeps their hopes for a post-season berth still alive.
“We will take every win we can now,” said Ridgewood coach Michael Lucchesi. “We struggled a bit the last couple of weeks, so our goal of qualifying outright didn’t happen. But we still have a chance to qualify for the tournament.”
To that end, producing the game’s first goal was imperative for Ridgewood in the contest – and it was Flusche who delivered it when he redirected a loose puck near the right goal line for a power play goal with 3:19 left in the first for a 1-0 lead.
“I was near the front of the net and it was a good shot from the point by Mason Schick,” said Flusche. “I got a good bounce and was able to shovel in the puck. It was an important goal for us. This was a huge game for us because we’re looking to make that push to try and get in the state tournament. That was always our ultimate goal.”
Ridgewood, which capitalized on its lone power play with Flusche’s sixth goal this winter, extended its margin to 2-0 just 56 seconds later when Samuels set up Joe Rahaim, who was hovering unchecked in the high slot, for a scoring shot that eluded a screened West Essex goalie Hannah Podvey (23 saves) for an even strength tally.
The Maroons established consistent pressure in the offensive zone for much of the remaining 30 minutes and Loughlin secured the crease at the other end.
The junior goalie made two key saves in the second period on point blank shots by Dylan Huff and Pat Coyle to preserve the two-goal lead.
“I knew I had to play well,” said Loughlin, a junior. “I wanted to make a difference and it was big getting the 2-0 lead after the first. After that I tried not to overthink the game too much. We knew West Essex would come at us in the second, but we were able to play well defensively. It’s a big win for us and getting a shutout is great, but that’s a team effort. My defense was great.”
Ridgewood, which fired 27 shots on goal while allowing 20, rarely backed off in the third and pressured on the forecheck as its coaches implored the team to keep getting the puck deep.
It paid off when Samuels scored with 4:10 left in the third off an assist from Alex LeMoine to extend its lead to 3-0. Liam Clark then finished the scoring when he struck with 1:55 on the clock for a 4-0 game.
“You have to take advantage of your opportunities,” Lucchesi said, “and getting that power play goal in the first by Davis (Flusche) was big. After that we tried to pressure on our forecheck, especially in the third period and slow down their transition. That was a big part of our game, and Nate (Loughlin) made some big saves for us.”
West Essex dropped to 4-10-2.
Written by Paul Bruno / @PaulBrunoHS
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