What a difference two days and a star makes. Just two days removed from being shutout, 10-0, the Millburn boys ice hockey team and star player, Phil Pikus, bounced back, with a 7-4 victory over West Orange on Wednesday at Codey Arena.
"I was very impressed. We came out ready to play, I think it started early, the kids were getting focused during warm-ups," Millburn head coach Brandon Doria said. "I try to get these guys to realize that you can't just show up, you have to get mentally ready."
Pikus, who missed the opening game of the season, picked up right where he left off last season as the league's leading scorer, netting five goals and two assists, while connecting for goals on his first four attempts on net. He was clearly the best player on the ice, and the difference maker in Millburn's first win of the season.
"I just had my legs in the game I think my teammates did a good job of getting me the puck," Pikus said. "I was on my game, I was taking some good shots, so I was really happy with myself. ...I thought it was impressive how focused we were, coming off of a loss. Everybody wanted to win today, and we knew we could."
With just over 10 minutes remaining in the second period, John Bergeron stole the puck near center ice, passed it left to Pikus, who tapped the puck ahead, creating a one-on-one breakaway against the Mountaineer keeper. As was the case for most of the game, Pikus one-on-one, may as well have been one-on-none, as the net-minder had no chance to stop the score, for Pikus's fourth goal of the game, staking Millburn to a 4-0 lead.
"Being able to jump out to an early lead always helps. So once we got that, I think we got a little confidence back, because the first game was a pretty tough game," Doria said. "To be able to bounce back showed a lot of character by our kids."
Bergeron scored the next goal on a slap shot he just squeezed through and with 6:06 left in the second, Pikus notched his fifth goal of the contest, this time unassisted, literally beating every player down the ice and fitting in behind the pads of the keeper.
In the closing minutes of the second period, following a five minute major called against Millburn for a cross check, Max Gomes got West Orange on the board, redirecting the puck sent in by Jonathan Miller. 36 seconds into the third period, with West Orange still on a power-play, Dan Campbell scored West Orange's second goal of the game, making the score 6-2.
"We don't have a lot of depth, but we have a handful of pretty good players," West Orange head coach Mark Janifer said. "If we're going to have success this year, the power play has to work for us."
West Orange went on to outscore Millburn 3-1 in the third period, but the scoring surge was a too late to make the game seriously interesting. Nathan Razcowski scored on a one-timer from Pikus with 11:04 to play in the game.
"I think it was the intensity coming down a bit and I think we lost our focus a little bit in the intermission," Pikus said.
Despite the goals allowed, Corey Nadell played well for Millburn in net, considering that he only allowed four out of 30 shots to cross, compared to seven of 16 for West Orange's keeper.
Both the Millers and the Mountaineers are 1-1 after two games, and both play again on Friday. The Millers will be back in Codey Arena for a big match up against Livingston, while West Orange will be in Union to face Governor Livingston.