By Brian Deakyne
RED BANK – It certainly wasn’t how Chris McCafferty drew it up, be he’ll take it.
McCafferty’s Bulldogs erased two separate two-goal deficits on Monday night in a pivotal B North match up with St. John Vianney to scratch out a 4-4 tie.
Rumson-Fair Haven, which was able to maintain a slim divisional lead over the Lancers with the tie, fell behind 3-1 in the first period and 4-2 entering the third period, but scored two goals over the final 8:44 to draw even with St. John Vianney, which was in dire need of a signature win.
“It was exciting. 50 shots, a couple bounces our way, we get that win. I wouldn’t say frustrating – it was an exciting game. It shows a lot of character to come back, down by two, two different times, so to fight back like that, two different times, to still get a point was solid.”
Senior defensemen Adam Sheridan ripped a shot home from the point with just under nine minutes to go in the game to draw the Bulldogs within a goal at 4-3, and senior forward Charlie Gravina cleaned up a rebound with 3:38 left to help Rumson even the game.
The Lancers came out of the gate all over Rumson. Senior Mike Davie buried home a power play goal less than three minutes in. After Rumson tied the game on a shot off the right wing from senior forward Alex Riguardi, the Lancers came right back, when junior forward Joe Porretta beat Rumson junior goalie Dominic Padula short-side off an offensive-zone faceoff to take a 2-1 lead.
St. John Vianney added to that lead when sophomore forward Mike Gelatt took a stretch pass in the neutral zone, made a deke inside the zone and ripped the shot into the back of the net.
Senior forward Hunter Rotchford drew Rumson-Fair Haven within a goal late in the first period, 3-2, when he tipped in a shot from Sheridan past St. John Vianney goalie James Ellis on the power play.
Gelatt added his second goal of the night in the opening seconds of the third period. Coming out of the penalty box, Gelatt took a long pass and came in alone on Padula, making two dekes and sliding the puck into the net for a 4-2 St. John Vianney lead.
The Lancers connected on both of their power play chances, which came in the first period.
“I thought in the beginning of the game they really set us back on our heels,” McCafferty said. “They came out and scored early, we bounced back to get one quick, but then they came back and scored again. I think, early on, that they really had control of the game.”
After Gelatt’s second goal, however, the Bulldogs controlled the game and kept the pressure on the Lancers.
Rumson held shot advantages over the Lancers of 16-10 and 22-5 in the second and third periods, respectively.
“Over the course of the end of the first [period] and into the second [period], we started having more possession in the offensive zone,” McCafferty said. “It seemed like they started getting a little tired toward the second and third period and we wound up being in their zone most of the time – with 50 shots – it was a good game. That was one of the better games we’ve had so far.”
Ellis finished with 46 saves for St. John Vianney. Padula posted 21 stops for Rumson-Fair Haven.
After Rotchford scored on the Bulldogs first power play of the night, Rumson was held scoreless on their final four power plays, although they generated tons of chances. Rumson’s final power play, which came with 3:10 to go in the game, recorded eight shots, but they couldn’t get the puck past Ellis.
The difference, according to McCafferty, wasn’t in the strong finish, but in the poor start.
“That cost us the win. If we would have played in the first period the way we did in the second and third period, I think we would have come out on top,” McCafferty said. “Their goaltender played a good game, but by coming out slow and giving them two or three goals, you’re fighting an uphill battle instead of controlling your own destiny.”
In the most likely scenario, Rumson-Fair Haven and St. John Vianney will earn the top two seeds for the Handchen Cup in February. The Bulldogs now have 5-2 win over the Lancers on a Dec. 4 and a 4-4 tie, making the chances of them earning the top seed even greater.
“If things go the way they are supposed to go and we meet them in the playoffs, we should have home ice,” McCafferty said. “For [St. John Vianney], they could almost use this as encouragement for a playoff game, so we really have to focus on the next time we play them, in coming out that first period and really being ready to go.
“By fighting back and getting a tie, we can’t let our guys be overconfident going into a playoff game against them because they are going to be that much hungrier to beat us.”
After Monday, Rumson only has five games remaining before the conference tournament cutoff date on Feb. 10 and six games left before the state cutoff date on Feb. 11.