Southern Regional Ice Hockey Squad Hits a Wall With Scoring Goals

By David Biggy | Jan 15, 2020
Photo by: David Biggy Southern goaltender Trey Mattern turns away a breakaway attempt during the Rams' 3-2 loss to Wall Township on Jan. 10.

Stafford Township, NJ — After outscoring its opponents 27-9 during a 4-0 start to the season, the Southern Regional ice hockey team had Christmas Day off and seemed to lose its scoring touch under the tree, going 1-4 during its next five games and scoring only four goals.

“Numbers don’t lie,” said coach Dan Wasilewski, whose Rams lost their fourth game in 15 days when they fell short against Wall Township, 3-2, on Jan. 10. “It’s funny. With the length of a hockey season and the way things go, it seems once one thing starts going wrong the guys start to overthink things, and that leads to overcompensating in other areas of the game. They just forget to slow down a bit and just play hockey.”

Coming out of the holiday break, Southern had lost just once in December – a 1-0 nail-biter to Toms River North in the Winding River Tournament on Dec. 26. Once the new year started, the scoring somehow disappeared. The Rams were shut out twice in back-to-back 3-0 defeats against Middletown South and Jackson Liberty.

But against the Crimson Knights, which Southern had defeated, 2-0, in the third-place game of the holiday tourney on Dec. 27, the Rams had an opportunity to get back on the winning track. The only problem was Wall came to play and took a 2-0 lead in the first period.

“Wall came out tough, played a great game and did everything they needed to do to beat us,” Wasilewski said. “But the way I’m looking at it is we just have to start finding the back of the net and the guys will heat up again. We have talented kids, and they’re working hard. They’re just not finding the net right now.”

At least, not enough. The Rams managed their only two goals against Wall in the second period, the first being a garbage goal out in front of the crease by Jeff Leonard, who poked in a rebound of an Andrew Brock wrist shot from the high slot with 9:16 left in the period. Just under four minutes later, Andrew Irwin carried the puck into the offensive zone, used a defenseman’s screen to flip a wrist shot on goal, then followed and banged in the rebound to tie the game at 2-2.

However, with under 30 seconds to go in the period, the Crimson Knights struck again, as Andrew Kiewe intercepted a neutral zone pass, skated into Southern’s zone by himself and beat Rams goaltender Trey Mattern to the glove side for the go-ahead goal.

In the third period, the Rams (6-4) had a bunch of scoring chances, including several short-handed opportunities during the final minutes of the game – Southern went on the penalty kill with 2:24 remaining and didn’t allow a shot on goal during Wall’s power play – but they were either turned aside by goalie Joe Hooper, who had 21 saves, or never got to him. Mattern finished with 18 saves.

“I’m really proud the way our defense has played,” Wasilewski said. “They’re doing their job and Trey has been standing on his head for us, but we’re not bailing him out offensively right now. Our focus really has to go back to getting pucks in deep, cutting down on the neutral zone turnovers or losing the puck at the blue line, and find a way to get shots on goal and get to the net to put them in.”

The Rams’ defense did its job again on Monday, Jan. 13, and the offense managed four goals in a 4-2 victory over Manalapan. Four of the game’s six goals were tallied in the first period, as the teams went into the second stint tied at 2-2. After Zach Minafo and Irwin scored Southern’s first two goals, Chris Laureigh scored off an assist from Justin Braun with 1:44 left in the second, and Minafo buried a Matt Leonard assist for a short-handed goal with nine minutes to go. Mattern again made 18 saves.

— David Biggy

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