UNION, NJ -- The Nutley Raiders ice hockey team (7-12-2, 2-9-1 NJIHL) will head to Union Sports Arena tonight to take on the (12-9-2, 8-3-1 NJIHL) Governor Livingston Highlanders in the first round of the division playoffs.
After not grabbing their first win until their seventh season contest and experiencing one of the most difficult seasons in program history, the Raiders achieved a 4-1 victory over the West Essex Knights on January 21, which gave them one final chance of making it to the NJSIAA Tournament.
"We certainly do have a goal to make it to States, but we do have to win the next five games in a row,” Raiders Head Coach Andrew Surowiec said in a January 21 post-game interview.
But the Raiders were then hit with a three-game losing streak, which included back-to-back losses to Governor Livingston – by 4-1 and 5-1 respectively – eliminating their State Tournament chances.
However, the team finished the regular season strong with a 4-1 victory over the Ramapo Raiders and 2-0 shutout over the Cranford Cougars.
Considering that the Cougars added a 5-2 loss to Governor Livingston’s schedule, Raiders junior Mark Frade – who has accumulated 15 points of goals and assists since December – feels confident about tonight’s game.
"I'm feeling good, the team's feeling good, we really think we can bring it to Governor Livingston,” Frade told TAPinto Nutley.
The Raiders’ offense has been led by senior Danny Caputo and junior Ryan O’Mara this season. Caputo has recorded 14 goals and four assists, while O’Mara has added nine goals and 12 assists.
Frade contributed eight goals and seven assists and senior Andrew Spitalnik gave the team another seven goals and one assist.
His twin brother Tim Spitalnik made 410 saves during his final season as the team’s starting goalie.
Despite the talent the team has, they suffered five one-point losses earlier in the season, which Surowiec believes they had the potential to win.
"I certainly wish it would have turned a little earlier,” the coach said. “It was tough seeing all those one-point losses, especially since we knew we could compete with those teams."
The Highlanders come from a 2-2 tie against Montclair Kimberly, preceded by a 7-2 victory over the Frisch School. The Raiders gave Montclair Kimberly a 4-3 loss on January 11.
The Highlanders are led offensively by Ryan Monroy, Carson Wahlers, Danny Kramer and Billy Alexander. Monroy has recorded 14 goals and eight assists during his junior season. Wahlers – a sophomore -- has given the team 40 points with his 26 assists and 14 goals. Kramer is the strongest senior on the ice – with 13 goals and ten assists. Alexander has added 12 goals and 13 assists during his junior season.
Sophomore Nick Papa has led the Highlanders in the net with 443 saves.
The two teams will face off at 9:10 PM.
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