ROSELLE, NJ - Johnson junior goaltender Karol Wieczorek stopped 58 of 60 shots to help the Johnson Crusaders ice hockey team to a victory over conference rival Cranford Cougars by a final score of 4-2 Wednesday night at Warinanco Park.
Wieczorek halted a lot of major scoring chances Cranford threw in front of the net and believes the victory is important for the Crusaders at this early point in the season.
“It’s a big deal, it’s kind of like our next-town rivalry," Wieczorek said. "It’s a big win for us.”
Wieczorek said he doesn’t pay too much attention to the statistics.
“It was amazing. I was focusing on shot-after-shot,” he said. “[It was all] just focusing on shot-after-shot and not worrying about how many shots I had saved.”
The two teams battled through a scoreless first period, as Wieczorek and Cranford goaltender Harry Devenney kept the puck out of their respective nets for the first 15 minutes of the game.
Cranford got on the board first, with freshman Luke Pachkowski scoring his fifth goal of the season 30 seconds into the second period, putting Cranford up on top, 1-0.
The Johnson Crusaders would set the tone over the next four minutes, when junior co-captain Mike Adamowitz’s shot on goal beat Devenney at 2:20 of the second period, tying the game, 1-1. This was Adamowitz’s first goal of the season. Sophomore Jason Applin registered an assist on the Adamowitz goal.
Sophomore Tyler Mekovetz gave the Crusaders the 2-1 lead with his sixth goal of the season, beating Harry Devenney at 4:30 of the second period.
Cranford struck quickly in response, as junior Ryan Malko tied the game at two with his first goal of the season. Sophomore Ryan Echevarria registered his fifth assist on the game-tying goal for the Cougars.
Penalties would plague the Crusaders in multiple moments of the game, but they didn’t allow a power-play goal from Cranford. They went 8-for-8 on the penalty kill and cashed in on an opportunity when they were short a man on the ice following a Jason Applin holding penalty.
Sophomore Matt Alongi got the puck as the Crusaders were clearing it out, but he saw a chance with an opening on the ice. He skated through, past the Cranford players and scored a shorthanded goal, his first of two goals on the night at 10:38 of the second period, giving his team the 3-2 lead going into the second intermission.
“It felt really good to get the goal,” Alongi said. “Sometimes, if I see the play, I take it. If I see the chance, I’ll take it.”
The third period would consist of the two teams battling it out on both sides of the puck, with defense being a huge factor.
Both goaltenders did all they could to keep the score at 3-2 and a key moment came for the Crusaders.
Following two penalties on Schafer and senior Matt Boho, Cranford had a 5-on-3 power play opportunity, a chance to tie the game. Wiezcorek wouldn’t have any part of that, as he and the defense kept the Cougars at bay in the final 15 minutes of play.
Alongi gave his team a two-goal cushion at 14:01, his second of the game, third of the season, and the Johnson Crusaders would hold on for the win. Sophomore Rocky Azari registered his fourth assist on the goal.
“Starting with our goalie [Karol Wieczorek], he kept us in from the start of the game until the third period,” ALJ head coach Bryan Klimchak said. “Everybody out there, our entire d-line, our forwards, our goalies, it just shows you our mental toughness.”
“Fighting through a bunch of penalties, having to kill [several] power plays in the second and third period when we’re up, it takes a toll on you,” Klimchak added. “We showed our mental strengths and we grit our teeth and we were able to grind out those [penalty] kills. We did a great job.”
Cranford is optimistic moving forward with the rest of the season despite a few miscues on the ice in the loss.
“It was a great game, it went back-and-forth the whole game,” Cranford head coach Rich Hurley said. “We have a young team and we made some mistakes out there and they took advantage of them and they have an older, seasoned team. We just have to keep building on what we got and keep playing better every time we get on the ice.”
Cranford freshman goaltender Harry Devenney saved 45 shots out of 49 in the loss.
The Johnson Crusaders (3-0) are back in action Friday night on the road with a game at West Essex at 6:45 p.m.
The Cranford Cougars (2-2) face off against Millburn Monday night at 6:30 p.m.
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