Man, is it cold up here

December 28, 2006 on 2:50 am | In game recap | 2 Comments

Well, I got to see my first games of the season earlier today at the fourth annual Somerset County Tournament, and it was good to be back. I froze my butt off, of course, and struggled to hold book and notebook while leaning against the railing and peeking over heads at Bridgewater Sports Arena.

First, in other action, I have to give a shout-out to Hudson Catholic for winning its first game since December 10, 2004 with a 2-1 win over Demarest in the Ice House Tournament Wednesday. The Hawks had gone 46 games (0-43-3) without a win since beating Brick 9-3 in 2004, improving to 2-0 (believe it or not) on that young season. Congrats, fellas. I counted 15 other winless schools around the state, although somebody had to win the Bayonne-Monroe game yesterday, and we’re rooting for all of those teams to pick up a W as well.

As for my Wednesday at Bridgewater, I endured high school girls who do not understand the offside rule and a mother who yelled at her chosen team that “you’re playing like a bunch of girls!” I saw an old friend in Pingry head coach John Magadini, still using the same bucket for pucks he did with Delbarton back in 1982. No joke. And he is still as friendly and pleasant away from the bench as he is outspoken and competitive on it. I saw a terrific overtime contest between Pingry and Bridgewater-Raritan, and I saw Ridge don black jerseys as the home team, earning the first win in SCT history by a No. 1 seed. It was quite a day. Here’s how it went down (Warning: to make up for four weeks without covering a game, these are rather long):

Pingry 3, Bridgewater-Raritan 2 (OT)
I have to admit, it is fun to see Pingry hockey back at a competitive level. When I was growing up, Pingry spent plenty of time among the ‘Morris County’ elites. Debuting in the league in the 1989-90 season, the Big Blue was in the Mennen Division by 91-92 and used to always play these ridiculous overtime Mennen Cup games against Morris Knolls. Pingry even made the Mennen Cup final in 1995, only to get blasted 9-2. The Big Blue was part of a ridiculously good Halvorsen Division in 1997 but has fallen from grace ever since, even with the inimitable Magadini behind the bench. Numbers and talent have fallen off in Martinsville, and Pingry has not been in the Mennen Division since a disastrous 0-12 league campaign in 2000-01. Last year’s state tournament bid was its first in six years and marked an upward trend in the program. The progress has continued this year, as Pingry was flying high at 6-0 after an overtime win over Hillsborough in the tournament’s opening round.

The Big Blue were not as deep or as fast as their public-school opponent on Wednesday; Pingry used its third line sparingly and relied on a few players for offensive production. But the players had an innate sense of where they should be, where there teammates should be, and where the puck should go that surpassed that of many high-school teams. All of Magadini’s forwards backchecked and filled in for each other. As much as anyone who has never played the game (me) could tell, they were extremely well-positioned all night.

And these kids can play. They’re not going to make a state tournament run or even win the SCT title, in my opinion, but Pingry is capable of watchable hockey. That said, I wrote down almost nothing other than line combinations during the first period Wednesday. Junior forward Dan Weininger rang the post basically at the buzzer, but the period finished 0-0.

Bridgewater-Raritan remains a team with a deep cast of forwards who skate well and have reasonable hands, but there are no standout players like Pingry’s Ambrosia brothers or Weininger. The sizable Chris Tommins was the best threat for Bridgewater most of the night, and Gary Biggs was typically impressive in goal. Still, the 2004 SCT champions were probably a bit surprised to go down 1-0 early in the second period. After a point shot by Jay Sogliuzzo whistled wide, Pingry defenseman Brad Zanoni came up with the puck along the right boards and snapped a shot through heavy traffic that beat Biggs stick side. Bridgewater responded well and forced the play in the middle of the period, earning three consecutive power plays. Pingry freshman goalie Peter Martin and his defensemen stood tall, although Panther forward James Fernandez did hit the post from the slot. Pingry came on toward the end of the period, and a fancy Weininger rush deserved a better fate than yet another shot off the post.

Bridgewater finally got back on level terms early in the third period when Kevin Wetmore was allowed to walk out of the left corner and beat Martin up high at the near post. The Panthers fed off the ensuing energy and took the lead on the power play at the 8:24 mark when a twice-deflected shot was knocked home by Loughlin in a crease pile-up. Magadini took a time-out to settle his troops, and the Big Blue wound up with a few power plays of their own. The decisive play came when Biggs saved a shot from Weininger but could not see the rebound through traffic, and the younger Ambrosia brother – freshman Mike – popped the puck home to tie the game with 3:02 remaining in regulation. With a first-line advantage, Pingry needed its second line to survive only one more shift to force overtime.

Surprisingly, overtime featured two early Bridgewater power plays as the Panthers began to wear Pingry down and the game got increasingly chippy. The Big Blue absolutely shut down Bridgewater’s initial power-play attempt, and the second one yielded the game-winning goal – for the shorthanded squad. With a two-on-two break, Zanoni crossed the blue line on the right wing and wristed a shot just inside the top left corner of the net, touching off a Pingry celebration in the far corner.

Ridge 7, Watchung Hills 2
Another overtime doubleheader was a bit much to ask for, but the second game did its best to match the opener through the first two periods. Ridge was always the better team and outclassed Watchung Hills for the win, but it was not a sure thing. Although Ridge has a faster and bigger squad, the Warriors showed off forwards with good hands made for aggressive forechecking. Goalie Dan Schroeder, only a sophomore, has good size and reflexes, although he – like Pingry’s Martin – is more of a shot-stopper than a goalie and does not control rebounds particularly well.

Ridge finally made its speed pay off with a nifty opening goal at the 9:37 mark. With what Dan Breeman would surely describe as a tic-tac-toe passing sequence, the Red Devils got a long pass from their own blue line to Justin Sobieski on the right boards at the offensive blue line. He touched the puck ahead to Greg Zambon, who slid it inside to a cutting Bryan Leddy, who finished the flowing movement with a nice deke around Schroeder for the opening salvo. Watchung Hills was generally limited to perimeter shots, and Ridge made it 2-0 late in the period with an accurate wrist shot from Brett Kiliyanski in the last minute. In a sign of things to come, Ridge tried to swarm for a second goal in the final minute of the period but had to settle for a 2-0 advantage.

Watchung Hills got back in the game almost six minutes into the second period, as Mike Lundberg made a sharp cut off the left boards and whipped a wrist shot through the five-hole of Jon Lyons to make it 2-1. Importantly, Ridge responded within a minute, as Brendan Cuddihy handled a wide rebound and fired it over a sprawling Schroeder to make it 3-1. Watchung Hills got a break to get back in the game when its aggressive penalty-kill forecheck left Lundberg all alone with Lyons for a shorthanded finish to make it a 3-2 game. But the killing goal came with 2:38 remaining in the period, when Schroeder allowed an innocuous left-wing slap shot from Leddy to trickle through his pads and restore Ridge’s two-goal lead.

Watchung Hills coach Justin Kaufman then pulled Schroeder in favor of junior Chris Slavin, but Ridge scored two goals 16 seconds apart in the final minute of the period to put the game away. They were hardly Slavin’s fault, as defenseman Zack Brinkman slapped a laser from the point after a slick lay back from Sobieski for the fifth goal and the always impressive Andre Menard tapped home for the sixth. Schroeder returned to goal for the third period after the ice cut, but early Watchung penalties killed any chance of a rally and Ridge breezed to the win.

The Final
Perhaps the most unlikely squad to be playing in its third SCT final in four years, Pingry is 0-3 all-time in county championship games, losing the Mennen Cup final in ’95 and SCT title tilts in both 2003 and 2004. (Yes, it is possible for Pingry to hold the Somerset and Morris County titles at the same time. It would be hilarious.) I can see Pingry as the Halvorsen Division favorite and a competitor with middling publics and lower privates (I would love to see Pingry-St. John Vianney, just as a barometer), but I do not believe it can beat Ridge Thursday night.

The Red Devils are one of the more impressive public schools I have seen because there is only a slim drop-off not only in speed but in skill and finishing ability from line to line. They have a knack for a swarming offensive-zone approach which can overwhelm the opposition, and Ridge displayed Wednesday an ability to go for the kill by striking quickly.

It threatened to do so in the first period, responded within a minute of being scored upon in the second, and put the game away with a dominant flurry after smelling blood late in the second. I have not seen Chatham, Randolph, or Knolls, but Ridge convinced me tonight that it is the team to beat on the public side. Coaches hate this, but it says here the new-look, old-school black unis with ‘Ridge’ spelled out diagonally in green across the chest will be pictured with some hardware Thursday night and maybe even some more by the end of March.

Boxscores:

Pingry 3, Bridgewater-Raritan 2 (OT)

Scoring

Pin 0 1 1 1 3
BR 0 0 2 0 2

Shots

Pin 7 10 10 1 28
BR 6 8 9 2 25

1st
none

2nd
2:42 Pin #3 Brad Zanoni (#21 Jay Sogliuzzo)
3rd
4:41 BR #2 Kevin Wetmore (unassisted)
8:24 BR (pp) #9 Nick Loughlin (#11 Jimmy Bregartner, #22 James Fernandez)
11:58 Pin (pp) #24 Mike Ambrosia (#17 Dan Weininger, #21 Jay Sogliuzzo)
OT
4:47 Pin (sh) #3 Brad Zanoni (unassisted)
Goalies
#30 Peter Martin (Pin) 25-23
#31 Gary Biggs (BR) 28-25
Power plays: Pin 1-3, BR 1-6

Ridge 7, Watchung Hills 2

Scoring

WatH 0 2 0   2
Rid 2 4 1   7

Shots

WatH 8 11 5 24
Rid 14 8 8 30

1st
9:37 Rid #27 Bryan Leddy (#13 Greg Zambon, #24 Justin Sobieski)
14:33 Rid #22 Brett Kiliyanski (unassisted)
2nd
5:56 WatH #25 Mike Lundberg (#22 Alex Kong)
6:53 Rid #26 Brendan Cuddihy (#15 Dan Kolomatis)
9:24 WatH (sh) #25 Mike Lundberg (unassisted)
12:22 Rid #27 Bryan Leddy (unassisted)
14:36 Rid #17 Zack Brinkman (#24 Justin Sobieski)
14:52 Rid #20 Andre Menard (#14 Keith Macey)
3rd
4:47 Rid (pp) #26 Brendan Cuddihy
Goalies
#54 Dan Schroeder (WatH) 27-22
#47 Chris Slavin (WatH) 3-1
#45 Jon Lyons (Rid) 24-22
Power plays: WatH 0-3, Rid 1-5

2 Comments »

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  1. Brendan Cuddihy had the last goal for ridge

    Comment by John Parker — 28 December 2006 #

  2. 1-6 is a breeze. Monty WILL be #1 as they play the tguhoest schedule of the Top 3. Gill beat RP so that’s that. The only reason people need to hear for why Gill doesn’t get #1: getting blown out by North Hunterdon does not earn you a #1 seed, sorry. Somerville gets #4 for being undefeated and untested in the county, and BR gets #5 after beating Hillsborough, who gets #6. All 3 teams have had relatively soft schedules, so BR and Somerville could be flipped, but I don’t see it at this point. I figure that Somerville deserves the double bye for soaring through its schedule and racking up what should be 10+ wins come tournament time. The difference between 4 & 5 is slim anyway, and with around a .500 record, it seems like a good fit for BR at #5.#7 is a tossup at this point. I put Watchung Hills as they seem to be playing well together as a team, with Franklin right behind them. MSM, Bernards, Ridge, and Pingry present a problem and I put MSM first for no reason other than their record, though they look nothing like the team they were last year when they beat Somerville twice. Bernards is a dark horse as their inside game is flourishing and they could surprise some teams if overlooked, but their record is so-so. Immaculata gets #13, though from the box score it looks like they gave a good game to Montgomery last night. Still, at least last year they had beaten Somerville and Montgomery before seeding. This year they have 1 win so I’m afraid 13 is the best they can hope for.

    Comment by Dwcatering — 14 October 2015 #

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