FRANKLIN TOWNSHIP, NJ — The Governor Livingston Highlanders boys varsity ice hockey team was in full control for the first 30 minutes of Saturday night's game — capitalizing on their chances on the power play and on a few Westfield Blue Devils mistakes — they looked to be on their way to the McInnis Cup Semifinals. But Westfield turned things around as they stormed back on the power play to tie the game in the third and take the lead minutes later to finish off a three-goal third period to win by a final score of 4-2 at Protec Hockey Ponds Ice Center in Franklin Township.
With Governor Livingston senior co-captain Kyle Wahlers in the box for a hooking penalty, Westfield waited and was patient for looks on the ensuing power play and connected. Westfield senior Matt Rittendale, who took a penalty that led to the Highlanders’ second goal, not only tied the game on the power play, but secured a milestone in getting his team back in the game. His game-tying power play goal was his 100th career point.
“I was looking to get the puck in the slot, get a shot and put it right by their goalie,” Rittendale said of his game-tying goal.
The Blue Devils had momentum in their favor and after denying a potential breakaway chance for Governor Livingston, continued to create chances to break the tie.
Timmy Rosa gave the Blue Devils a 3-2 lead with 8:02 left in the third period, making up for the team’s earlier struggles with an electric third period on the ice.
“It’s a great feeling. It’s a team effort, all about the team,” Rosa said. “I have to thank C.J. [Duffy], our goalie, he played great.”
“We’re a third period team,” Westfield head coach Joe Betrucci said. “We’ve been down in the third period. I told the boys after the second period, ‘We’ve been here before against good teams’ and were able to answer. We put a few pucks in the back of the net and were able to come away with a win.”
“We had to settle things down,” Betrucci said of his team’s early struggles. “Playoff hockey is different than regular season, it’s intensified. [GL was] running that trap that we had trouble breaking. Once we learned how to stop it, we were pretty successful.”
Governor Livingston continued to fight for the game-tying goal needed to give them a chance, but couldn’t quite find the back of the net. Their chances appeared dim after Carson Wahlers was called for a holding penalty with 3:58 left in the third period.
However, the game appeared to take a swing after Tanner Devin took an interference penalty just 23 seconds later, making it possible for Governor Livingston to come back. He sealed the deal with a goal with 19 seconds left, making the score 4-2 Westfield, wrapping up a comeback win for his team.
With their season on the line, Governor Livingston came out strong and drew a few penalties to open the game, with a 5-on-3 power play opportunity following two Westfield penalties 31 seconds apart taken by Westfield seniors Trevor Tanella and Devin.
Junior co-captain Carson Wahlers cashed in 11 seconds into the two-man advantage to give his team a 1-0 lead at 3:43 of the first period. The Highlanders continued to have the Blue Devils on their feet for the first portion of the game, poised to increase their early momentum.
“We executed our game plan pretty well and had ourselves a chance to win,” Governor Livingston head coach Matt Anderson said. “At the end of the day, they had a deeper lineup with players who were willing to go hard to the net and score some dirty goals.”
It was temporarily dashed when Governor Livingston junior Zach Miller was sent to the penalty box for a two-minute interference penalty.
“GL came out strong, they’re a pretty good team,” Rittendale said. “They threw a good forecheck at us and they kind of stunned us in the beginning.”
Just like the Highlanders did on special teams, the Blue Devils cashed in on their power play opportunity, with Devin making up for the early penalty with the goal to tie the game at 1-1 at 9:19 of the first period.
The story early on for the Blue Devils was the penalties, which appeared to doom them at times. Westfield found themselves shorthanded just 35 seconds into the second period, with Rittendale being sent to the box for a high-stick penalty.
Governor Livingston’s Ryan Erickson gave his team 2-1 lead with a power play goal at 2:04 of the second period of an assist by Max Mele, who recorded two assists for the night.
“They scored two power play goals and we knew we had to capitalize on the power play,” Rittendale added.
Westfield tried to throw multiple chances on net to tie the game, but Governor Livingston junior goaltender Nick Papa kept every chance out, as the Highlanders took a 2-1 lead after the second period. Papa recorded 32 saves in the loss and Westfield goalie CJ Duffy recorded 18.
The Governor Livingston Highlanders finish their 2017-18 season with a 5-14-2 record. The senior co-captains reflected on this past season with it officially over.
“It feels great. We’ve been working towards it all season and to finally see it pay off, of course, the outcome wasn’t the way we wanted it, but it feels great,” Governor Livingston senior co-captain Brian Gray said about competing with tougher teams.
“Throughout the whole year, the one thing [coach Anderson] wanted us to learn is responsibilities, like life lessons, more than just winning games,” Kyle Wahlers said. “As a whole, our team this year, took away more life lessons that’ll truly impact us for the rest of our lives.”
The Westfield Blue Devils (12-6-2) advance to the 2018 McInnis Cup Semifinals, where they will take on top-seeded Summit HS Tuesday night at 6:45 p.m. at Warinanco Park in Roselle.
“Summit’s a pretty good team,” Rosa said. “It’s going to be a difficult game, but I think we can beat them. We have a talented [and] big team.”