WOODBRIDGE — With the rain pouring down outside, the St. Joseph High School ice hockey team supplied the thunder inside, scoring two short-handed goals in a span of 26 seconds at the end of the first period en route to a 4-1 victory over Old Bridge in the Greater Middlesex Conference Championship.
Sean Rappleyea netted both short-handed goals for St. Joseph (17-2-3) and John Reid and Michael Nisky each found the back of the net as the top-seeded Falcons defended their GMC title.
Right from the start, St. Joseph delivered crushing body blows in the open ice to set the tone against the second-seeded Knights.
“The difference for us tonight was just that we had this mentality that we weren’t going to lose,” St. Joseph coach Ryan Carter said. “It took St. Joseph 21 years to win a championship and we just didn’t want to give up the trophy.”
Less than three minutes into the contest, Reid got the Falcons on the board when he stole the puck behind the Old Bridge net and wrapped a shot inside the near post to beat Knights goalie Justin Amayo.
From there, the teams traded scoring opportunities for the next 10 minutes, but inside of three minutes to play, St. Joseph was whistled for a double-minor penalty.
Not fazed by the four-minute penalty, Rappleyea and his penalty-killing mates took over, putting the game out of reach with his pair of goals. The first of the two goals at the 13:21 mark of the first period stunned Old Bridge, but the second, just 26 seconds later, left the Knights (13-6-2) shell-shocked.
“My first goal, their defenseman made a bad pass and I read it from the blue line and just stepped up and walked in on net,” Rappleyea said. “But on my second, I just made a couple moves and dangled their goalie and scored.”
Amayo made 35 saves in the contest for Old Bridge, which was outshot 39-20.
With St. Joseph on the power play, Nisky found the back of the net at 1:15 of the second period to put the Falcons up 4-0. They wouldn’t add to their lead for the remainder of the game, but the damage had been done.
Dan Rubin scored at the 4:32 mark of the second period to get Old Bridge on the board, but the Knights, who dropped a 6-1 decision against St. Joseph in the regular season, couldn’t get any closer.
The Knights managed to get 20 shots on net against Daniel Garb, but most of them came from the outside and weren’t serious threats to find the back of the net.
Defending their GMC Cup was a big goal for St. Joseph coming into the contest, but Carter knows that there is more to the season.
The Falcons are the sixth seed in the NJSIAA Non-Public Tournament, with a matchup against 11th-seeded Montclair Kimberly looming Thursday.
“We’ve had some pretty big games this year, beating Don Bosco was a huge step for our program, and that game gave us the belief that we’re capable of playing with and beating anyone in the state,” Carter said. “We’re a huge contender. If people want to overlook us, that’s fine, we’re just going to keep churning.”