Westfield High School Hockey Advances to Elite 8
Downs Manalapan 4-3 and Hunterdon Central 4-0 in Public A State Hockey Tourney
Coach Sean Cromarty's Westfield High School Blue Devils, fresh off beating Summit in the Union County Cup, knew they were in for a dogfight when they opened the Public A State Hockey Tournament against an underrated Manalapan team on Feb. 26 at Warinanco Rink.
"We are typically a slow starting team," Cromarty commented, "and given the emotion of our Cup final as well as some of Manalapan's top level talent, I was concerned about a let down early on in this one."
Cromarty seemed clairvoyant 4 1/2 minutes into the first period when Braves senior forward Thomas Caccia notched his 75th point of the season, circling the Westfield net and slipping a pass to teammate Eric Yarmolinsky for a 1-0 lead. The early deficit seemed to wake Westfield from its reverie and the Blue Devils began to pummel Manalapan goalie Joe Barone (53 saves) to no avail for the rest of the period.
Westfield finally broke through early in the 2nd when senior Sam Meyer banged home a Jon Macik rebound to knot the score at 1. After another Westfield flurry of prime scoring opportunities was rebuffed by Barone, Manalapan went on the power play only to have Westfield's Dan DoCampo (16 saves) stand tall in net for the Blue Devils. Meyer was again instrumental in Westfield taking the lead, his short handed poke check creating a 2 on 1 break, leading to a rebound marker by junior Jeremie DeDea for a 2-1 lead after 2.
The third period saw multiple lead changes and momentum swings that thrilled the Warinanco throng. Caccia's pretty feed to senior Andy Vovk on the power play tied the score and just two minutes later Caccia tucked one home from a sharp angle to give the Braves a short lived, 3-2 lead. But only 12 seconds later, Westfield was back even as leading goal scorer Dane Huber scooped up a loose puck and calmly snapped home the equalizer.
Westfield's constant pressure finally paid off with just over a minute left as Huber continued as the 3rd period hero. His screen shot from the half wall eluded Barone and had the partisan Westfield crowd cheering wildly over the 4-3, hard fought victory.
"We showed a lot of mental toughness and resolve tonight," Cromarty said, adding "we'll need that resolve to keep advancing in the states."
After another tepid start against Hunterdon Central on Thursday February 28th, senior defenseman Liam Devin got the Blue Devils started with a power play blast from the point, assisted by Meyer and junior Andrew Stern. Just 16 seconds later Anderson Eckert fed Macik down low and the senior forward stretched the advantage to 2-0. Westfield then began to get their forecheck working, frustrating their opponent and creating solid scoring chances against Hunterdon goalie Carter Siani (24 saves).
The lead was stretched to 3-0 when Meyer made a slick fake and dish to Huber early in the 2nd period. Central's best opportunities of the night came late in the stanza when, on a 5 on 3 power play, Matt Venezia and Rob Bakerian peppered sophomore DoCampo (22 saves) who responded with several acrobatic stops.
Standout junior Huber finished the scoring, notching his 30th tally of the season with about 5 minutes to go, accounting for the 4-0 final.
Next up for Westfield (20-4-2) is Bridgewater Raritan (20-4-3) in the quarterfinals Saturday, March 2nd @ 8.30pm at Bridgewater Sports Arena.