Wayne, NJ- Connor Toomey scored the game-tying and game-winning goals to lead the New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs over the Jersey Hitmen 3-2 in the first game of the EJHL Dineen Cup Championship Series.
The Hitmen wasted little time in jumping out to an early lead. Just 21 seconds into the contest, the Hitmen crashed the net and Connor Leen set Max Novak up with a shot. Monarchs goaltender Brian Billett got a piece of it, but Matt Willows slid the loose puck into the net.
Brandon Stroud gave the Hitmen a 2-0 lead at the 3:43 mark. Andy Latta dished the puck to Jesse Petito, who then cleared it out of the zone. Stroud gathered the puck, skated around a defenseman on a breakaway, and fired the puck over Billett’s glove.
The Monarchs got their first shot, and goal, of the game when a Hitmen defenseman tried to clear the puck, but it went off another Hitman’s skate and directly to the stick of Brian Morgan, who shot it through Hitmen goaltender John Nauta’s legs with 15:02 left in the period.
Nauta and Billett were kept busy throughout the rest of the frame, with the Hitmen holding a 14-11 advantage in shots, but both goaltenders proved equal to the task.
Connor Toomey netted his first goal of the game 25 seconds into the second period when he buried Trent Ruffolo’s rebound. Tommy Thompson also received an assist for initially setting up Ruffolo.
Again, the teams unloaded on Billett and Nauta for the remainder of the period but had nothing to show for their efforts and the game entered the third period tied 2-2.
The goaltenders did a fine job at thwarting the teams’ scoring attempts, but a late 4-on-3 power play gave the Monarchs the opportunity to win the game. With a faceoff to Nauta’s right side, Trent Ruffolo sent the puck to Billy Fitzgerald, who set up Toomey at the point. Toomey ripped a shot past a screened Nauta with 4:21 remaining to give the Monarchs their first lead of the game.
With 1:26 remaining, the Hitmen pulled Nauta for the extra attacker. Despite applying considerable pressure, Billett and the Monarchs refused to yield and nearly scored an empty net goal on a few attempts. Nothing would go in for either team before the buzzer and the Monarchs ended on top 3-2. Billett made 43 saves in the win and Nauta turned away 32 shots.
The teams meet again tomorrow at 1:30 PM at the Ice Vault in Wayne, NJ. Should the Hitmen even the series, a decisive mini-game will be played immediately following the conclusion of the contest.
(Nathan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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