WEST ORANGE — The Seton Hall Prep youth movement seemed reasonable entering this season, but the Pirates got a nice dose of maturity on the ice today.
After graduating 14 seniors and losing talented goalie John Profaci to transfer, the depletion was hardly noticeable as senior Thomas Colucci collected a pair of goals, classmates Ryan Kemp and Anthony Martine each added a goal and and assist while freshman goalie Jake Schunke turned aside 21 shots in his varsity debut as Seton Hall rolled to a 6-2 victory over Bergen Catholic in the season-opening contest at Codey Arena.
The level of poise displayed throughout most of the 45-minute match was evident from the opening faceoff for Seton Hall, which controlled the boards, the middle of the ice and the neutral zone for long spurts.
“I told all our guys don’t play as if you’re a freshman or a sophomore, play as if you’re a senior,” said Colucci. “Just play your game. I said we can do what we do well starting tonight. Coach Atkinson wanted us to come up in the first game with a really good effort, especially in the first period.”
Seton Hall surely did that in building a 3-0 lead and throwing 14 shots at Bergen Catholic starting goalie Chris Branch (14 saves).
Martine got the scoring burst started when he picked off a wobbling puck at the Bergen Catholic blue line and darted in on Branch. Martine sped in and put a shot five-hole for an unassisted tally and a 1-0 advantage just 1:36 after the opening draw.
Just over three minutes later Oliver Grinkin shoveled in a shot off a scramble in the left circle just as Seton Hall’s first power play expired for an even strength goal, and a 2-0 lead, as Christopher Kelly and Kevin Harcourt assisted.
Bergen Catholic didn’t falter and Will Frasseto nearly cut the deficit in half, but Schunke denied his backhand from a crowded slot with 2:51 remaining to preserve the Pirates’ two-goal lead.
And 40 seconds later it was Colucci who finished off a two-on-one with Phil Feinberg and buried a shot from the right circle to make it 3-0 before the first period concluded.
“We wanted to get on the board early,” noted Collucci. “We have some big games early in the season and we want to build off of this game and keep chipping away. The last couple of years we were pretty senior-heavy as a team but it’s a new season now. And Jake (Schunke) didn’t look like he was a freshman at all. He’s really poised in net and he’s really meant to be there.”
Throughout much of the second period Seton Hall was able to keep the puck in deep in the offensive zone and cut off lanes in the middle of the ice, negating much of Bergen Catholic’s speed.
Kemp and Colucci both added goals in the second, while Devon Kelly struck for Bergen Catholic’s initial goal in the second period, which Seton Hall controlled and outshot the Crusaders by a 15-4 margin in building a 5-1 lead.
Still, Bergen Catholic had a chance to swing the momentum when it trailed, 4-1, but had a five-on-three advantage for 36 seconds followed by a five-on-four power play for another 1:24 but was unable to capitalize.
Colucci then banged home the rebound of a shot by Kemp with 2:22 left in the second for the four-goal lead.
“That was a huge swing right there,” said Seton Hall coach Mike Atkinson. “Killing that off and then coming down and scoring to go up 5-1. That was little bit of an exhale moment there.”
“I guess you could say we graduated half the team and it was kind of starting over but we had some seniors and juniors who stepped up and filled in nicely. You have to give the players credit,” Atkinson said. “I thought Bergen Catholic battled hard and competed. I think some of our new guys stepped up in handling the pace and physicality. I thought our new players picked up on everything really quickly and the turnover has been a lot less dramatic that we thought.”
At the forefront in that sense was Schunke, who was posed smooth throughout in his crease.
“I didn’t feel any pressure,” Schunke admitted. “The upperclassmen and all the guys on the team have been really welcoming and it’s been easy to come play here. We were trying to play fast and take it shift-by-shift. It was nice getting that 3-0 lead and all the D were pitching in and blocking shots. It was nice.”
Seton Hall outshot Bergen Catholic 13-7 in the third (42-23 overall) and James Gabriel tapped in a cross-slot pass from Martine with 7:29 left to extend the lead to 6-1.
Frasseto scored an unassisted goal for Bergen to cut the deficit to 6-2 just over a minute later.
“Seton Hall got those three goals in the first period and it’s tough to come back from that deficit,” said Bergen Catholic first-year coach and former standout Tom Keough.
“They are a good team. I thought we played well in spurts, but our D-zone coverage was a little sloppy at times,” Keough said. “We needed to control the pace a little more and get some more sustained pressure on offense. We have the skill, so we just have to get some consistency. We play Delbarton on Tuesday, so we will look to move forward and bounce back.”
Written by Paul Bruno / @PaulBrunoHS
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