WOODBRIDGE — “Hey Joe’s, where you going with those sticks in your hands?”
Kyle Jeffers gave St. Joseph of Metuchen a lead just 48 seconds into the game and Brian Coelho doubled it 63 seconds into the second period, but St. Joseph of Montvale got back-to-back goals from James Durante and Dominick Posta in a span of 1:46 en route to a fitting 2-2 tie at The Community Center in Woodbridge.
Separated by 43 miles, two of the top Roman Catholic schools in the state which play both a competitive public and private schedule, put on a show with a combined 60 shots on net, but in the end each bowed out to a couple of hot goaltenders in between the pipes.
Montvale senior goalie Patrick Lynch shook off a couple early strikes to stand tall with 24 saves while Metuchen senior netminder Nolan Banfitch had a shutout brewing for nearly 27 minutes before finally yielding and finishing with 32 saves in a well-earned tie on both sides of the puck.
Before the game, both teams stood for a moment of silence in honor of Marisa Rose Tufaro, the daughter of long-time sportswriter Greg Tufaro, who died at the age of 13 on Monday after a long battle. Tufaro is a decorated member of the St. Joseph-Metuchen class of 1985.
Just seconds off the opening face-off, Kyle Jeffers wasted no time bringing fans to their feet and scoring one for the home team as the NAHL-Titans commit finished what James Ulrich and Brian Coelho started to put St. Joseph of Metuchen on the board just 48 seconds in.
“It was a good game,” Jeffers said. “We came in knowing they had a strong team with a couple of good players but I thought we matched lines pretty well, dumped it in and fore-checked hard.”
The goal stood until the puck dropped in the second period as the all-senior line went back to work with another quick strike off the draw, this time finding the back of the net 1:03 into the frame as Coelho’s one-timer from Jeffers put his Metuchen school up 2-0.
“Kyle got a hard shot off on the goalie but he stopped it. He picked it up again and put it right on my tape and I put it in the back of the net,” Coelho, whose goal came on the power-play, said. “We’ve been working well together all year and just kept it going.”
Despite being outshot 23-20, the Metuchen school had to be feeling pretty good with a 2-0 lead after two periods of play. The dreaded two-goal lead, however, is the worst in hockey and St. Joseph of Montvale was just getting started.
“I thought we were sleeping the first period, the first six or seven minutes before we started to pick it up,” Montvale coach Larry Mahurter said.
“We just told our guys to keep our composure and it will come. We felt like we were out-skating them and getting more shots to the net,” Mahurter said. “We thought we could use our speed and drive to the outside and beat their defense. Finally, we started getting to some loose rebounds and when we had the opportunity, we took advantage of it out there.”
James Durante broke through with 3:18 remaining in the second period to put St. Joseph of Montvale on the board, assisted by Cole Garabed.
“We were struggling to put the puck in the net on this kid so it felt good to finally put one in,” Durante said. “Aiden Greico got the puck out but struggled to get a shot off. He got the puck to Cole in the slot and he hit the post. It just tapped it in off the rebound. It was nice.”
Dominick Posta tied it at two just 1:46 later. Garabed, a senior, had a hand in it again setting up both goals to send both teams into the second intermission deadlocked at 2-2.
“It was a great play by Cole,” Posta said. “He saw me skating up the ice and passed it up to me off the boards. I saw one of their defensemen skating down but I skated faster and roofed it. My travel coach always taught me, ‘When you’re coming down the right side, take your stick out six inches and shoot short-side.’ — I saw it open and capitalized. The feeling was awesome. A lot of people didn’t expect us to be in this game.”
“After a great shot by Dom to tie it up, we were feeling pretty good,” Durante said. “We really wanted this game but both teams hit a wall in the third period. This team is ranked ahead of us so we’re happy to come out of this game with a tie and not a loss.”
Both teams were given man-advantages to pull out a victory in the third, including a Metuchen power-play with 32 seconds left, but neither team was able to solve Lynch or Banafitch a third time.
With the tie, St. Joseph of Montvale stands 14-4-1 and in first place in the Big North Conference’s Freedom Division. St. Joseph of Metuchen is 10-7-3 and is tied with Monroe for first in the Greater Middlesex Conference.
“It’s tough to be up 2-0 and have them come back and make it 2-2 that quick,” Jeffers said.
“I thought we reacted well, had a lot of chances at the end, maybe if we had a little more time, but we’ve got some things to work on in practice. The games are going to get tougher from here. It’s a team game. We need to finish more.”
“We need to start generating offense from more than just one line,” Metuchen coach Ryan Carter said.
“Our younger guys need to start doing the little things right, getting hard to the net instead of trying to skate through everyone — get the puck to the net and get there. Once we start doing that, we’ve got guys who can fill the net.”
St. Joseph of Montvale was thrilled with the comeback. And while it did not write the storybook ending it hoped for, the Bergen County school was pleased with the effort put forth against one of its tougher opponents on the schedule.
“We hung there,” Posta added. “Everyone thought we were going to lose so this tie is a big confidence booster.”
Where St. Joseph-Montvale and St. Joseph-Metuchen go from here is yet to be determined. How far they go in the NJSIAA State Tournament, how many wins it continues to pile up from here, perhaps each looks back at this game as the one that turned the tide this season.
John Christian Hageny
Lead Writer — Hockey Clan
Buffalo Sabres Team Writer — The Hockey Writers