Rams Hockey Builds Chemistry, Pursues Maturity for Scoring

Three Straight Ties Cool Off Hot December
Jan 16, 2019
Photo by: Jack Reynolds

In the only two games the Southern Regional ice hockey team has lost, the Rams gave up more than two goals each time. So, two seems to be the Rams’ magic number – allow two or fewer and the likelihood of victory increases significantly.

Of course, that’s just in theory. In practice, coach Dan Wasilewski’s crew also needs to score more than twice.

“We keep telling these guys that if they hold the other team to zeroes, ones and twos, they should be winning games,” Wasilewski said following a third consecutive 2-2 tie on Jan. 11. “But we’ve put up twos in each of our games this week and didn’t win any of them. So that’s on us, and our ability to finish. Tonight was a good example. We had a lead with nine minutes left and let it get away.”

It took a couple of minutes for Southern to get moving against Manalapan on Friday, but during a two-minute stretch culminating at the 8:49 mark of the first period, the Rams sustained pressure in the offensive zone, firing four shots on goal.

A half-minute later, the Rams grabbed the initial lead. Andrew Brock played the puck along the right boards and sent it into the right corner. Joe Cajzer fought off a Manalapan defender and zipped the puck toward the net. It bounced off the side of the goal, and Christopher Laureigh streaked in through the slot to bang it in on the short side at the 8:15 mark.

Manalapan went on the power play following a slashing penalty, but the Rams killed it off. Still, the Braves continued to pressure Southern’s defense during the next few minutes and knotted the game at 1-1 when Freddie Brutto got his stick on the puck during a scramble in front of the net and poked it past Southern goaltender Trey Mattern.

Early in the second, Manalapan again went on the power play, but again Southern shut down the Braves, giving up just one shot on net. With 9:23 left in the second period, the Rams went on the power play and, 17 seconds later, grabbed the lead. Yater Henry played the puck along the blue line, sending a cross-ice pass to Zach Minafo at the left point. Minafo’s shot was deflected by Jeff Leonard past opposing goalie Pat McCarty.

The pace of the game slowed considerably in the third period, but Manalapan managed to equalize with 8:17 left. During a give-and-take of possession in the neutral zone, an attempted dump-in by Jake Cabellero bounced off a Southern defender’s leg and out in front of the blue line, where Brutto skated onto the loose puck and streaked in alone against Mattern. Brutto’s wrist shot from the low slot beat Mattern high to the glove side.

“We have a lot of high-end guys who play hard,” Wasilewski said. “And when they find their groove, they’re buzzing and peppering goaltenders left and right, making opportunities happen. Unfortunately, hockey is a sport in which it literally can take one bad pinch or one blocked shot, and the next you know you’re either tied or down by a goal.”

The Rams recorded 33 shots on goal, but couldn’t find another hole around Manalapan’s McCarty. Mattern finished with 17 saves.

“During the past five weeks, the chemistry has come along much better,” Wasilewski said. “We have a better feel for who works well together, and who falls into which roles. The rest is immaturity. You look at three ties in a row and it’s just a maturity thing, how we handle ourselves in the third period and putting away wins.”

However, he understands the silver lining.

“Even with the rut we’re in right now, this will build a ton of character for our guys, and that’s OK,” Wasilewski said. “Now we just need to get some consistency with our scoring. The bottom line is we need to crash the net more consistently. If we have eight or 10 rebounds sitting there, we need to get to those pucks. We need that guy who’s going to get in there, take the crosscheck to the back and score the gritty goals.”

In the Rams’ 2-2 tie with Old Bridge on Jan. 9, Minafo scored on a power play off assists from William DiStefano and Henry with two seconds left in the first period. With 18 seconds left in the game, the same trio worked to tie the contest. Southern fired 41 shots on goal during the deadlock, while Kaitlyn Braun stopped 15 shots for the Rams.

Against Howell on Jan. 7, the Rams trailed the Rebels, 1-0, heading into the second period, but Laureigh buried an Andrew Irwin assist with 9:14 left in the period on the power play to tie the game. Howell took a 2-1 lead into the third, but Josh Irwin, assisted by brother Andrew, again knotted the contest 48 seconds into the final period. Mattern made 34 saves to keep Southern in the game.

The Rams (6-2-4) haven’t yielded more than three goals in any game since a 6-1 loss to Point Pleasant on Nov. 30. Their only other loss was a 3-1 decision against Middletown South on Jan. 4, after going on a 5-0-1 streak in December.

“For me, I’ll take what we have going right now,” Wasilewski said. “What’s changed in five weeks is that these guys really have developed into players who just want to win games and work hard to do it. The mindset has changed. We’re not trying to find ourselves anymore. We have a confident group of kids who are working hard and have really invested themselves into the program.”

— David Biggy


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