WEST ORANGE — It came down to a battle of the power plays, and in the end, it was Seton Hall Prep that came out on top.
Senior forward Stephen Buck scored one of the crazier goals in recent playoff memory with just 1:48 remaining in the third period with an assist from J.P. Foley for a power-play tally that proved the difference as Seton Hall, No. 9 in the Hockey Night in Boston New Jersey Top 10, forged a 4-3 victory over 10th-ranked St. Joseph of Montvale in the NJSIAA Non-Public Tournament Round of 16 at Codey Arena.
Buck took a couple of strides into the left circle and launched a shot that appeared to hit a defender’s stick, wobble high into the air, and drop above and beyond the outstretched catching glove of St. Joseph goalie Jacob Serey (24 saves) before the disk bounced into the net to snap a 3-3 tie.
“I got the pass from J.P. Foley, walked in, and their defensemen went down to block the shot,” said Buck, who leads the Pirates with 38 points on 24 goals and 14 assists and was named the Gordon Conference Player of the Month of January by the New Jersey Devils. “I let it go and it hit his stick and went up and over their goalie. I had no idea where the puck was. I saw it go up and was hoping it went in. It did.”
And with that, Seton Hall (12-7-5) advances into the quarterfinal round for the first time since 2011. The sixth-seeded Pirates will meet the winner of third-seeded and No. 6 Christian Brothers Academy and 14th-seeded Bergen Catholic.
“The special teams were the difference tonight,” said Seton Hall third-year coach Mike Atkinson. “It came down to who had the last power play.”
The victory also assured Seton Hall its winningest campaign since 2010 when it finished 12-9.
“This is where we’ve been pointing to since I was a freshman,” Buck said. “We were 2-19-1 my first year and our goal was to get Seton Hall Prep hockey back to where it used to be. When the game was tied, and we got that last power play with about two minutes left, we knew this was it. This was our time.”
Seton Hall and 11th-seeded St. Joseph (20-7-1) combined to score five power-play goals in the contest.
“You can’t give up three power play goals to a Gordon Conference team like Seton Hall and expect to survive,” said St. Joseph coach Larry Mahurter, whose club was defeated by Seton Hall, 4-2, in the Ice Vault Pepsi Classic back on Jan. 1. “We took too many penalties and it hurt our rotations. It killed us. At five-on-five we did well. It was a freaky goal to win it, but it happens. It was a crazy goal, but Jacob Serey played a great game for us.”
St. Joseph, which had gone 10-2 in its last 12 games, was outshot 10-5 in the first period but took the lead on an unassisted power play goal by junior forward Michael Posma with 12:22 left in the first period.
But Seton Hall responded in the second with power-play goals from Thomas Colucci, who redirected a point shot from Jake Sandomeno, and Liam Carroll and an even-strength tally from John O’Hearn to build a 3-1 advantage.
The Pirates were shooting St. Joseph, 21-9, as the second period wound down and appeared ready to take that two-goal lead into the third period.
But Aiden Grieco had another idea and whipped in a spin-o-rama from the slot past Seton Hall goalie John Profaci (12 saves) with 2:11 left to cut the deficit to 3-2.
“We were in good shape going into the third period,” Mahurter said.
Indeed, St. Joseph killed off a Seton Hall power play early in the final period, then got the equalizer when Justin Rauch scored his 16th of the season when he banked in a shot from behind the goal line with 7:00 minutes remaining to lock the game at 3-3.
Despite the jolt, there wasn’t much doubt on the Seton Hall bench.
“We weren’t thinking about overtime at all,” said Colucci, a junior forward. “No way. We were going to play until the end. Every shift we were just going to focus on that and going to the net. We really worked a lot this week on our power play execution and we had good net-front presence. Stephen Buck’s goal was a lucky bounce I guess, but we’ll take it. We deserved to win.”
Seton Hall fired 28 shots on the St. Joseph goal while limiting the Green Knights to 15.
“We limited their odd-man rushes,” Atkinson observed. “They’re a good team and we knew it was going to be a close game. We had shots and took the lead and St. Joseph battled back. This is great for us and our program has taken a step forward each year. We aren’t looking past anyone, whether we get to play CBA or Bergen Catholic.
“We were able to create good traffic in front of their goalie and got rewarded for it. We’re excited to move on.”
Written by Paul Bruno / @PaulBrunoHS
Special to HockeyClan
HockeyClan continues to upgrade its apps to benefit their growing hockey community.
Want to write about hockey? Join the HockeyClan community! While you are here visiting Rate Rinks! You can rate every rink you have ever been to based on the most important criteria. Interested in doing your own Player’s Blog? Send your hockey story to us at firstname.lastname@example.org