Photo Credit: Steve Yakimowicz
As the NAHL welcomed in the 2017-18 regular season, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights and New Jersey Titans renewed their eastern division rivalry for the 29th time in their shared existence.
The game began with a high tempo attack from the Knights forecheck, aided by two early Titans penalties. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton quickly built a 12-4 lead but were kept off the scoreboard by New Jersey netminder Brandon Perrone. Just past the midway point of the first, the Titans began their push back, driving possession into the Knights zone and taking the shots lead by period’s end.
At 14:15, Titans forward Tyler Barrow fired a shot off the blocker of Knights goalie David Tomeo. The ricochet sent the puck straight into the air, before descending behind Tomeo and glancing it’s way into the net. Barrow’s first NAHL goal, assisted by Tate MacDonald, gave the Titans a 1-0 lead heading into the intermission.
Entering the second down by one, the Knights received a boost in the early minutes of the period when Paul Cimilluca ripped a pass from his own zone to the Titans blue line. The pass found Mike Gelatt as he gained the zone, and then fired it ahead to Reed Robinson in fro0nt of the net. Robinson’s persistence through Perrone’s initial save paid off, as the power forward worked a rebound through the pads to even the game at one.
After a pair of Knights breakaways were stoned by Perrone, the Titans found one of their own. Forward Hunter Alden worked his way behind the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton defense to create a 2-on-1 break. As he barreled toward Tomeo, he slid the puck to Nick Yzaguirre who put rubber to twine, giving the Titans back the one-goal lead.
Tomeo wouldn’t allow the goal to haunt him as the ’99 birth year continually stood on his head to keep the Knights in the game. His first and second period efforts were highlighted by multiple diving saves with bodies stuck in the crease, eerily similar to saves he made against the Knights last season with the Northeast Generals.
Nearing the end of the second period, the Titans appeared to have bested him a third time off a Nick Boyagian redirect of an Eric Manoukian point shot. The goal was disallowed after the officials determined it was played with a high stick. The break gave the Knights momentum heading into the second intermission with the added bonus of an upcoming power play stemming from a 4-on-4 set to expire within the first minute of the third.
The power play, though abbreviated, would prove to be an important one to start the final frame of regulation. Though ultimately unsuccessful in finding the net, the Knights created chances and offensive momentum that quickly forced another New Jersey penalty.
On their fourth man-advantage of the game, the Knight finally broke through. At 3:54, Matt Kidney, the Knights first-round draft pick and leading scorer in 2016-17, pushed a Mike Morrissey pass through the five-hole to tie the game at two.
The remainder of the period was an intense exchange of rushes on both ends of the ice, and impressive saves from Perrone and Tomeo. Though both teams had quality opportunities to take the lead, neither was able to do so in the allotted 60 minutes. The first overtime contest for both benches came in their opening game, meaning both teams would leave the rink with at least one point on Friday night.
The beginning of the 3-on-3, five minute period saw New Jersey generate two quality chances within the first 90 seconds. The first was pulled just wide of the net on a shot from the top of the slot. The second was denied by Tomeo as the Titans entered the zone on an odd-man rush.
Matt Kidney had seen enough. On his first shift in overtime, the Knights veteran hovered in front of the Titans blue line as his teammates worked out of their own zone. Rookie forward Tyrone Bronte tangled in a 50/50 battle for the puck at center ice, and after emerging victorious, fed the wide open Kidney with a quick pass. The Middletown-native sped in over the line alone, and learning from Perrone’s earlier highlight-reel glove saves, ripped a shot low-stick side to send the Knights home with two points and their first win of the season.
The teams will meet again tonight at Middletown Ice World Arena for round two of the highly-entertaining, east division matchup. Puck drop is at 7:30 pm and the game broadcast can be found on hockeytv.com.