ROSELLE, NJ — If it weren’t for one defensive mishap 90 seconds into the game, there’s a very good chance Scotch Plains-Fanwood’s memorable 2017-18 ice hockey season would still be alive.
But hockey is a game of luck and timing, and neither of those components worked to the Raiders’ advantage Tuesday night. Unfortunately for the Raiders, it happened in a do-or-die situation.
No. 13 seeded Scotch Plains-Fanwood let up a goal just over a minute into the first period, then proceeded to blank No. 20 seed Ridgewood for the rest of the night. However, the Raiders couldn’t find a scoring formula either, and despite outshooting their Bergen County counterparts, had their season end in a hard-fought 1-0 loss during the NJSIAA Public B state tournament first round Monday night at Warinanco Ice Center.
As fog was still lifting from the ice and steamed the glass on an unseasonably warm February evening, Joe Rahaim of Ridgewood drilled an unassisted goal at the 13:31 mark in the opening period. That score was enough to decide the game, as both teams countered each other’s moves to no avail for the night’s remaining 31 minutes.
Scotch Plains-Fanwood’s season — the best in program history — ends in the process, as the Raiders finish with a 15-4-6 record. Ridgewood, a team that was on the fringe of making the tournament, advances to play fourth-seeded Livingston.
“It’s always disappointing to end the season on a loss, but realistically, there’s only four teams in the state that end it on a positive win,” head coach Matt Gunther told TAPintoSPF. “The kids, they’re disappointed with the scoreboard, but they can’t be really disappointed with the way they played. They really tried their hardest, left their heart on the ice.
“You really see a good group of kids when there’s six seconds left of the clock, and there’s still hope on the ice and bench,” he added.
To say that Scotch Plains-Fanwood was the lesser team Tuesday night would be false, because, despite allowing the lone goal, the Raiders controlled the game’s momentum. In total, SPF outshot Ridgewood, 21-19, and controlled a 16-13 shots-on-goal advantage during the final two periods.
On numerous occasions, the Raiders came within inches of getting even again. In fact, most of the spectators at Warinanco believed they had with 5:30 left in the game. On a breakaway advantage, Jonny Scheer was skating on the left side of the goal when he received a pass from across the ice and sent off a shot that somehow eluded the goal. The Raiders’ players were in mid celebration upon realizing the puck hadn’t hit the net, and so was the crowd.
Earlier, in the waning seconds of the second period, Tom Bruckman nearly chipped in a point blank shot, but Ridgewood goaltender Ben Rubenstein trapped it with his leg.
“We said, ‘We’re not done here’. There’s nothing that we could’ve done about that, just keep pushing.” Scheer, who plans to test the junior hockey waters next season, said about his team’s upward climb. “That’s the way the game works.”
Scheer was roughed up on a play the developed in front of Ridgewood’s goal about midway through the third period. At the time, it looked like the senior captain would not be returning, but just a few minutes later, he was back on the ice and instrumental in the Raiders’ rally bid.
“I was coming on, either if I was going to pass out or not again,” he said. “There was nothing stopping me.”
After letting Ridgewood’s first shot of the game get by him, Scotch Plains-Fanwood goalie Ryan Lamberta stopped everything in his path. The sophomore netminder notched 18 saves between the pipes before being pulled in a move of desperation with 1:17 left. He finished the season with 371 saves and a save percentage of 96.
While Tuesday’s loss ends the Raiders’ season, the team accomplished much during it. Appearing in the state tournament, making a county cup run, and winning over support from all around town, the Raiders have put hockey back on the map in Scotch Plains and Fanwood.
“Even from the start of the season, it’s beautiful to see a support system,” said Gunther. “I remember previous years when I’d turn around from the bench and didn’t see too many fans. This year, to see how many people would come to our games religiously, game in-game out, it’s really nice to see the community come and put our team on the map.
“It’s good things in the future for SPF hockey.”