WEST ORANGE, NJ — Zach Gold waited at the Verona-Glen Ridge bench with his teammates prior to the third period knowing his team needed lift.
Locked in a 1-1 tie with Oratory Prep with 15 minutes still to play, the freshman defenseman delivered it.
Gold corralled a turnover in center ice and wheeled quickly over the Oratory blue line before splitting the two defensemen and backhanding in the go-ahead tally to lift Verona to a 2-1 victory at Codey Arena in West Orange on Friday.
“We needed a goal and we needed to do whatever we could to get one,” said Gold, who deked forehand to backhand before netting his ninth of the season.
The poised Gold also gave credit to a pre-third period pep talk from senior forward and captain Jarrod Keating.
“He really got us fired up before the third started,” Gold said. “He said we needed a goal and to protect the net and that this was the most important period all year. It got us going because I think we played a really good third period. When I got the puck and came in I was thinking quick shot at first, but then I saw the defensemen reaching forward so I just tried to do my best to get it further to the net and get a better opportunity.”
Gold’s unassisted tally came with 6:16 left in the contest, snapped the 1-1 tie, and allowed Verona to improve to 12-7-4 and move into third place in the Kelly Division with 14 points (6-4-2), one ahead of Oratory and Cranford. West Essex currently resides in first with 17 points while Millburn is in second with 16.
The seeding for the Kelly Cup will be held Wednesday at Codey Arena.
Chris Kostas turned aside 21 of the 22 shots he faced for Verona.
“Going into the third period we just knew we had to win,” said Keating, who netted his 27th goal off an assist from Vincent Erimeta with 9:46 left in the first period that gave the Hillbillies a 1-0 lead. “Losing wasn’t really an option for us because we want to get a home game for the playoffs. This gives our team a lot more confidence. I think we have some more of our mojo back.”
The triumph for Verona, its second straight decision after three consecutive losses, also avenged a 5-0 setback against Oratory on Nov. 30.
“Jarrod Keating has turned into a tremendous captain and leader,” Verona coach Ken Lilien said. “It’s not easy to be the captain but he’s our leader on and off the ice. Words from him, especially for a freshman like Zach Gold really means a lot. That was a big moment for us I thought between the second and third period. It’s one thing to come from the coaches but when your captain steps up and dials them in I think it means a lot.”
Keating, who has 40 points now on 27 goals and 13 assists, was impressed with Gold’s play and composure during the pressure packed third period.
“He made a really nice move. It takes a lot of confidence to do that and it was a really good play. He’s a very good player and his work ethic and his skill is going to help us go a long way. This win is a huge confidence booster. We had lost three in a row and were a little down but now we are back and going again.”
Verona carried most of the play in the first, taking the 1-0 lead on Keating’s goal and out-shooting Oratory (11-8-1) 11-5.
The Rams elevated their effort second as they fired 15 shots at Kostas and squared it at 1-1 with 8:35 left in the period. John Meehan sent a 25-foot wrist shot past a screened Kostas for an unassisted goal, his 17th. Oratory, which received a stellar effort in goal from Greg Lahr (38 saves), finished the second with a 14-9 shot advantage.
“I cut to the net and their D stepped up and I was able to sneak a shot past their goalie,” said Meehan. “We won the second period. In the third we just didn’t get shots on net. We had opportunities but we didn’t take them and that hurt us. This was the biggest game of the year so far and it would decide where we would go for the playoffs. I think we hung in in the first period, dominated in the second and couldn’t hold on in the third.”
Verona finished with 40 shots on goal while Oratory sent 22 the other way.
“We felt good going into the third period,” said Oratory coach Samuel Tafel. “We felt if we put the puck on net we had a good chance to score and at least generate some offense. Unfortunately, we didn’t generate enough shots today. We had a couple of opportunities in the third but couldn’t score. We were driving wide and maybe taking a little too much time with the puck on some rushes in the third. But our guys had a good effort and were physical the entire game.”
Oratory pulled Lahr for the extra attacker with 1:26 left on the clock with a faceoff in the Verona end to the right of Kostas. Verona defenders Aidan Brennan and Jeff Egan each sacrificed to block shots and the Rams were unable to net the equalizer.
“We are in a 1-1 game and it’s so close,” Lilien said. “There was a lot on the line and hockey is a game of mistakes at times. Oratory is a tough team but I thought we had the better play in the third and we out-shot them.
“Zach got a lane down the middle and he finished it. I can’t say enough about him and how he’s developed. His confidence both on the score sheet and taking care of his own end. He’s one of our strongest hitters, too. He clears out in front. He’s a hockey player, he plays the right way and he wants the puck on his stick.”
Written by Paul Bruno / @PaulBrunoHS
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