ROSELLE, NJ- The Governor Livingston Highlanders varsity ice hockey team took to the ice looking to get back on the winning track. Junior co-captain Carson Wahlers and senior Billy Alexander scored goals to lift the fourth-seeded Highlanders past the fifth-seeded Cranford Cougars by a final score of 2-1 in the 2018 Union County Cup First Round Monday night at Warinanco Park in Roselle.
The teams battled through a scoreless first period where both sides couldn’t set up major scoring chances, which changed in the opening seconds of the second period.
Cranford’s Pat Connolly was sent to the penalty box for roughing just 29 seconds into the second period, giving the Highlanders an opportunity on the power play.
After getting a few passes around, Carson Wahlers fired on net and the puck reached the back of the net for his team-leading 14th goal of the season, a power-play goal at 1:58 of the second period, giving his team a 1-0 lead.
Governor Livingston did work on their penalty kill, slowing down Cranford and preventing them from any major setups for the game-tying goal.
“We had a really nice hit about halfway through the second period by Ryan Erickson on a nice back-check,” Governor Livingston head coach Matt Anderson said. “He absolutely leveled one of their kids.”
The Highlanders would strike again after reaching the Cranford zone, after the defense was able to keep Cranford from scoring.
Carson Wahlers fired a shot on net that bounced in for a goal at 7:35 of the second period, with Billy Alexander receiving credit.
“We scored our second goal right after that [hit by Ryan Erickson],” Anderson said. “I think it was a changing moment."
The Highlanders took a 2-0 lead and appeared to slowly be in full control on both sides of the game.
“We moved our feet, which gave us more space and more options to shoot or pass, which ended up giving us two goals,” Carson Wahlers said of his team’s play in the second period.
For the rest of the second period, Cranford had trouble trying to solve the sturdy defense of the Highlanders. They had the puck taken away on setups, clears and all other spots on the ice, as Governor Livingston took a 2-0 lead into the second intermission.
“We moved the puck pretty well,” Kyle Wahlers said. “They were moving their feet and we were able to chip it out of the zone, rather than skating it out and trying to make fancy moves. People weren’t trying to stick-handle and it opens up the ice.”
“We’re able to go down, give it to our best players and they’re able to score and change the momentum of the game," he said.
As the third period started, Cranford got a few close chances on net, but they couldn’t get the puck to cross the net.
Cranford made a major push in the final minute to get back in the game. With Governor Livingston’s Kyle Wahlers in the penalty box for interference, the Cougars were finally able to get movement within the Governor Livingston zone.
Cranford senior Ethan Otani cashed in on for the power play goal, his third goal of the season with 46 seconds left, cutting the lead down to 2-1, leaving their chances very much alive for a potential comeback.
The Highlanders iced the puck with 19 seconds left, setting up a crucial faceoff in the Governor Livingston zone. Cranford pulled senior goaltender Harry Devenney to put six skaters on the ice.
In the end, the Highlanders defense stepped up to the task, sealing off the puck from Cougars skaters in the corner until the final buzzer sounded, securing the victory for the Highlanders.
“We just got the puck out of the zone, defended well and kept it out,” Governor Livingston junior goaltender Nick Papa said. “[The defense] didn’t let [the puck] get to me. They kept out in the corner, in the middle of the ice and never let it get to me. That’s one of the things we’ve worked on before.”
The Highlanders were successful on the penalty kill, killing off five of six penalties.
Despite the loss, the Cranford Cougars were impressed with their play and are looking ahead to the rest of the season.
“Our guys played tough, we played pretty even,” Cranford head coach Rich Hurley said. “It was an up-and-down game, an even game. [Governor Livingston] had one good goal, they got a lucky bounce and we just didn’t get any bounces tonight. Sometimes, it happens.”
For Governor Livingston, Papa made 27 saves on 28 shots for his team in the win.
The Governor Livingston Highlanders (3-9-2) advance to the 2018 Union County Cup Semifinals. They will take on top-seeded Summit HS Wednesday night at 5 p.m.
The two teams met on Friday, December 15, 2017, with Summit winning by a final score of 1-0.
The Cranford Cougars (5-5-2) play their next game at Randolph HS Friday night at 6:45 p.m.