NEWARK — Before his team took the ice against Bergen Catholic in their highly-anticipated Gordon Conference showdown, St. Peter’s Prep coach Ken Such told his Jersey City team it would take a full 45 minutes of hockey to pull this one out.
“I told them, ‘Guys, this is going to be a war. You’re going to have to play 45 minutes to win this game. Just keep playing, just keep battling,'” Such said. “And it was another classic Friday night battle.”
Bergen Catholic scored scored three goals in the first period and maintained that lead after two, but St. Peter’s Prep pulled out a comeback for the ages by erasing the three-goal deficit with three goals of their own — the last coming off the stick of Matt Zdanowicz with 11.1 seconds remaining — to rally for a 4-4 tie at the Barnabas Health Hockey House in Newark.
With their goalie pulled in favor of an extra attacker, St. Peter’s Prep went all-in during the waning moments of the third. The team called a timeout to discuss what would happen off the draw if it presented itself.
“It was a set play of the face-off. Christian Della Rocco won it back. As the winger, I came off the wall, circled behind him, walked through and just ripped it,” Zdanowicz, a junior, said of his third goal of the game.
“We always know we have it in us,” St. Peter’s senior defensive captain Ed Seborowski said. “We we’re down quickly but stuck together. We’re a very confident group. We know we can comeback and overcome anything. Very excited to see what this team can do after this big tie coming back from that deficit.”
After a tightly contested opening 10 minutes with several bone-crushing checks echoing off the boards, Bergen Catholic set the tone with two goals in a span of 1:31. Tyler Saccone finished the play started by Dylan Pasley and Nicholas Arcaroli 5:29 into the action before Cam Monteverdi scored an unassisted goal just over a minute later as the Crusaders carried a 2-0 lead into the first intermission.
Bergen Catholic padded its lead 6:26 into the second period when Monteverdi scored his second of the game — shorthanded — to put his Oradell school up 3-0.
St. Peter’s heeded their coach’s words and never stopped battling. Persistence paid off when Zdanowicz put his team on the board with 9:15 on the clock in the second period to make it 3-1. Just eight seconds after the Jersey City school scored, however, its North Jersey counterpart came right back on a goal from Pasley to go back up by three, 4-1.
“I felt the air come out of the balloon,” Such said. “Somebody had to step up. Matty is a talented kid who likes the puck on his stick. He can be a game-changer. Matty definitely stepped up and filled the void. That’s what he’s looking for from himself and that’s what we saw from him tonight.”
Despite finding itself down three and despite out-shooting its opponent, 18-16, after two, Zdanowicz and St. Peter’s Prep went back to work.
The junior cut it to 4-2 5:30 into the third and the stakes — and sticks — were raised before St. Peter’s Prep got the break it needed when two Bergen Catholic players were sent to the box on double-minors for cross-checking and roughing. Blessed with a 5-on-3, T.J. Such brought St. Peter’s Prep to within one on his power-play goal with 5:32 remaining before Zdanowicz capped the comeback — and the hat trick — with another power-play marker with 11.1 seconds showing.
“What happened to us in the first happened to them in the third,” coach Such said regarding the flurry of penalties. “I thought we were out-playing them. We were definitely out-shooting them but we couldn’t put the puck in the net. The one thing about these kids, though, they just kept battling.”
2017-18 marks Such’s second stint as coach at St. Peter’s Prep. Such was at Hudson Catholic from 1983-88 before coming to the Jersey City school the beginning of the 1988-89 season through 1994-1995.
Dan Maher had 18 stops for St. Peter’s Prep, while Chris Branch made 23 saves in net for Bergen Catholic.
“We were getting to pucks, getting pucks deep and defending sticks in front which had been a huge problem the first couple of games,” Branch said. “We were pretty happy, pretty excited going into the third. I just don’t know what happened there.
“The penalties got me mad a little bit because they were preventable,” the Bergen Catholic goalie said. “The first goal (in the third) was a rebound goal that was poked through my legs. I saw the last one, it was just tipped over my glove.”
Bergen Catholic coach Brian Monteverdi was less than pleased with the way his team got itself in trouble with several uncharacteristic penalties, especially in the third.
“I saw a team that came unraveled,” Monteverdi said. “The first period we were hitting on all cylinders. The second period was OK, but the third period this team just came unraveled — three unanswered goals.
“We’ve had some tough games to start here. We were looking forward to this game, getting the wheels back on track — and we were — but after giving up those goals, the resiliency had to come back for us and it didn’t,” Monteverdi said. “You felt it on the bench. My players need to learn how to control themselves, focus on the game rather than all the extracurricular activities going on around them.”
Both teams earn a hard-fought point in a tight Gordon Division race. St. Peter’s Prep is 2-1-1, while Bergen Catholic now stands 0-3-1.
Written by John Christian Hageny / @JCCSPORTS
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