sneaking into the CVC

January 11, 2006 on 11:55 pm | In game recap | Comments Off on sneaking into the CVC

I made my first ever trip to Mercer County Park for some CVC action tonight, and I’ve got a few stories to tell. I got off the turnpike at exit 8A instead of 8. Mistake. I needed maybe five illegal driving maneuvers to get back on track and successfully follow 535 all the way to MCP, but I got there well in time for the middle game.
Let’s give some credit where it is due … the CVC has the best security in the state. I actually had to work to talk myself in at the door and later had to defend my position in the camera area next to the ice. No wonder nobody wants to drive down there. (Just kidding, my thanks to the security gentleman who allowed me to stay without proper credentials.)
MCP may not be the best rink in terms of ice (in this weather) or facilities (teams regularly changing out in the open), but it really feels communal. As you would expect, Morris County and Mercer County have leagues that feel more local than most others, with games at only one or two rinks, a lot of intra-district rivalries, and kids and parents that know each other. So just hanging around the rink is fun for people from the area.
The two games I showed up for featured the top four teams in the CVC, which everyone has assured me can compete with any public in the state.

Princeton 1, Notre Dame 1
In a rematch of last year’s Mercer County Tournament final, which Princeton won with an emotional 3-2 upset in overtime, the Little Tigers put their unbeaten, untied mark on the line against their biggest test of the season. Notre Dame does not have its strongest team but is still the CVC’s hegemon.

The Fighting Irish played like it in the early going, holding Princeton without a shot for more than six minutes. Both teams had trouble getting shots to the net at times, especially on the power play. Princeton goalie Shane Leuck, the inspiration to last year’s MCT run, had to be on his game to kill an Irish power play late in the period, but the Princeton forecheck stepped up to clamp down and hold the score 0-0 after one period.

The Little Tigers continued to gain confidence early in the second period, but neither team could break the deadlock. John Ryan had the best chance of the period with 4:33 remaining, jamming a shot across the face of goal from a bad angle. The first two periods, played with only three penalties and no goals, took 45 minutes of real time. No joke.

So we headed scoreless to the third period, but Princeton’s Sam Finnell broke the deadlock at the 1:44 mark with a slap shot from the left face-off circle that snuck through the pads of Notre Dame’s Ken Turner. With the Little Tiger students roaring their team on, the Irish fought back immediately. Just 23 seconds later, Mike Williams’ point shot deflected off the skate of forward Ryan McInerney and past Leuck to tie the score.

The goal prevented Princeton from building momentum, and the teams traded chances down the stretch. Turner made a key save with 8:30 remaining when he reached to his right to deny a one-timer from Jonathan Naylor in the slot. Leuck topped his counterpart with a pair of saves in the final six minutes. First, with Notre Dame on the power play, he slid to his right just in time to stop a back-door one-timer from Adam Shemansky. Two minutes later, he earned a personalized chant from the Princeton fans with a showy glove save on a Shemansky backhand.

The game finished 1-1, and Leuck (26 saves) was the difference in the contest. Princeton head coach Paul Merrow had Ryan playing on one line, with Finnell and Peter Teifer on another. Judd Lambert’s troops were, predictably, most dangerous with Shemansky and Mike Slowikowski on the ice. Slight edge in play to Notre Dame, but relying on Leuck is part of Princeton’s game plan.

Steinert 4, Hopewell Valley 2
The smart money was on Steinert in this game, thanks to comparative results against Notre Dame. Yet Hopewell Valley completely dominated the first period, peppering Alex Toth with 17 shots. The Bulldogs finally broke through at the 10:19 mark, with Paul Martori firing a wrist shot past Toth from the right face-off circle. Hopewell could not extend its advantage, however, and Steinert managed to regroup in the short break between periods.

Whatever Bill James told his troops, it worked, because the Spartans opened the period on the power play and quickly tied the game. After a strange bounce behind the net got goalie Jay Amato leaning the wrong way, Jonathan Firth pulled the puck in front of the net and flipped in a backhand before Amato could react. Steinert built on its early momentum less than two minutes later, as D.J. Ruppert sent a pass from one blue line to the other, and Mitch Wien set up linemate Gil Schaffer in the slot for a backhanded finish.

With two public schools playing, the fans were louder and more plentiful in the second game, and they even jeered the referee for attempting to give a stick back to the wrong bench. Steinert dominated the second period, holding Hopewell without a shot until the 9:24 mark, but the Bulldogs pulled back to tie at 10:31. Skating with a two-on-one break, Tom Rush pulled up in the left face-off circle and unleashed a slap shot that beat Toth up high, deflecting the goalie’s water bottle in the process. The teams finished the period with a flurry of fruitless end-to-end rushes.

After the ice cut, the Bulldogs once again came out flying. In the first 30 seconds of the period, Toth made three saves and twice saw Bulldog shots ring off the post. But, pinned in its own zone, Steinert broke out when Kevin Owen fed Wien for a breakaway. His shot was well high, but caromed off the glass back into the slot, and Schaffer was on hand to score the go-ahead goal and earn his 100th career point.

The weather gave the game a surreal atmosphere, at least for this inexperienced CVC watcher, in the final eight minutes, as the downpour outside increased and created fog on the ice. I watched through the fog as Hopewell Valley’s Jay Amato stopped Justin Decowski on a breakaway with 7:20 left, but Ruppert managed to scramble home a rebound 22 seconds later and danced into the arms of his teammates to celebrate the clinching goal.

Hopewell Valley has now lost to each of its division opponents by a 4-2 margin. Steinert tied Notre Dame 4-4 in the other division game. Right now I would have to go Notre Dame, Princeton, Steinert, and Hopewell Valley in that order, but the top three are clearly virtually interchangeable. They should meet plenty of times in CVC play, the Titans Cup, and the Mercer County Tournament.

Princeton 1, Notre Dame 1

Pri 0 0 1 1
ND  0 0 1 1
Pri  4  6 5 15
ND   9  8 10 27

1:44 Pri #20 Sam Finnell (unassisted)
2:07 ND #2 Ryan McInerney (#13 Mike Williams)

#33 Shane Leuck (Pri) 27-26
#1 Ken Turner (ND) 15-14

Power plays: Pri 0-1, ND 0-3

Steinert 4, Hopewell Valley 2

Ste 0 2 2 4
HV  1 1 0 2
Ste 5  8 10 23
HV  17  4 15 36

10:19 HV #44 Paul Martori (unassisted)
1:44 Ste (pp) #22 Jonathan Firth (#16 Justin Decowski)
3:39 Ste #23 Gil Schaffer (#8 D.J. Ruppert, #12 Mitch Wien)
10:31 HV #94 Tom Rush (#72 Hank Wittman)
1:02 Ste #23 Gil Schaffer (#12 Mitch Wien)
8:02 Ste #8 D.J. Ruppert (#23 Gil Schaffer, #12 Mitch Wien)

#30 Alex Toth (Ste) 36-34
#35 Jay Amato (HV) 23-19

Power plays: Ste 1-5, HV 0-5

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