BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Gov. Livingston's next stage will be at Warinanco Ice Rink in Roselle when the hockey team faces Arthur L. Johnson (No. 4 seed) for the third time this season in the first round of the Union County Tournament Monday evening. Puck drop at 6:30 p.m.
The Highlanders (10-8-1), the tournament's fifth seed, have been on a 7-1 tear since the return of senior captain Danny Kramer, who was out since first shift of the season opener.
"Minus the tough third period loss to Cranford on Senior Night, we've won seven of our last 8 games, including a 3-1 win over Millburn (the top team in the Kelly Division and Ranked #9 Public B on NJ.com)," said head coach Matt Anderson. "We are actually the only team in the NJIIHL to beat Millburn this season (they have wins over both Summit and Livingston)."
"I think it showed us that if we stick to our game plan, work hard, and work as a team that we can beat any team we play," said sophomore Carson Wahlers.
In his fourth year as head coach, Anderson has seen tremendous program growth year after year and has desired deserving respect of the division powerhouses. This win accomplished that quest, and with a full healthy roster, they will be a force to be reckoned with in the post season.
While the Millburn win will resonate as a high point of the season, Kramer believes GL's win over the undefeated Johnson team was the season's game changer. "Beating Johnson and breaking their undefeated record was my favorite win this season," said Kramer. "It brought our team together and from that game on, we have been improving more as a group."
What has been a season full of ups and downs, overall the team has persevered through their adversity to injury. "While we've been winning again, we still have a ways to go," said Anderson. "Right when Danny returned we lost Billy Alexander and Brian Gray with injuries. Billy is back and playing well, and Brian should return for the County Tournament and Kelly Cup Playoff, but the truth is, we haven't had our full lineup in a game since the first shift of the season."
Anderson is not saying this as a negative, he sees it as a strength leading into the tournament season.
Kramer agrees. "We have yet to play a game with our full roster, so the younger kids had to step up and that experience should help us going into playoffs," said Kramer. "We are getting our whole team back now and hope to make a nice run to cap off my senior season."
To reach the next level, Anderson preached consistency to his players, but that went out the window when Kramer was out for the beginning of the season. "Losing a big part of our offense and an even bigger part of our leadership core in the first game of the season obviously made that [consistency] difficult," said Anderson. "You can't replace a player like Danny, but key contributions from some emerging leaders like Carson and Kyle Wahlers, Billy Alexander and Rob Monroy [who has 67 career points] got us moving in the right direction."
"I wanted to be one of the kids to step up and lead the way on and off the ice, at practice, and during games," said Carson Wahlers. "I think we all stepped up and everyone played their role on the team which helped us win those close tight games."
Through this adversity, Anderson told his team that it's not about who wins games in December, but its really more about growth and getting hot at the end of the season when the games really matter.
Also stepping up during crucial times was sophomore goalie Nick Papas, who has been a consistent "bright spot." "He has shown tremendous improvement game to game and seems to have a knack for making the big save at the crucial moment in the game," said Anderson. "He's less worried about how many shots he faced and how many saves he made - he wants the win. And that's exactly the type of goalie we need. I can't think of a single game this year when he didn't give us a realistic chance to win."
"While having key guys healthy and playing at their best is key down the stretch, you really need everyone in the lineup at the top of their game if you're going to make a run come tournament time," said Anderson. "I think we are getting healthy and trending in the right direction at the right time this year."
Reaching 100 Points
Along the way, Kramer exceeded the 100 point milestone with 112 points and counting. This is a mark that only a handful of players have accomplished: All-Time leading point scorers in GL History Nick Sousa and Teddy Udelsman with 186 points each. Kramer is only the fifth player in GL history to reach the 100 point mark, along with Kyle Weltman and Cody Berquist. "It’s rewarding to see that my hard work and dedication has paid off," said Kramer. "To be up there with other great players is a humbling feeling that I could not have achieved without the help of my teammates, coaches, and family pushing me along the way."
"It's a special accomplishment and I've enjoyed watching Dan work towards it, but I think Dan would tell you that he'd rather be on the first GL team to win the Union County Championship or a State Championship," said Anderson. "When he's at his best, he does a lot more than score points and it shows when having him in the lineup gets us that consistency we've been searching for."
Carson Wahlers is on track to be next to reach this mark with 65 points to date. "It would be an amazing feeling to be able to accomplish the 100 point milestone, but I wouldn't be able to do it without my teammates," said Wahlers.
While both Kramer and Wahlers have seen personal success throughout their GL hockey tenure, they each credit their teammates and wish for team success as their ultimate goal. "In the beginning of the season we made a team goal together," said Wahlers. "We wanted to win the Union County Cup and the Kelly Cup, and we would really like do well in the State Tournament too. We have been training and working really hard as a team to try to achieve our goals."
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