The Hunterdon Central High School ice hockey team has posted a remarkable turnaround in the 2012-13 campaign.
A program that had won just three games combined in the last two years coming into this season, the Red Devils have posted double-digit victories for the first time in recent memory and have been considered a favorite to win this year’s Skyland Conference Tournament.
When it faced Bernards in the first round on Friday night at the Aspen Ice Skating rink in Flemington, the Red Devils continued their unlikely turnaround.
With a pair of goals from senior forward Mike Venezia coupled with stellar play in goal by Carter Siani, the third-seeded Red Devils took down sixth-seeded Bernards, 2-1, for the program’s first-ever conference tournament victory and will face Bridgewater-Raritan next Friday night in the semifinals at the Bridgewater Sports Arena.
“It’s our time,” Venezia said after game. “We have 16 seniors on this team and hopefully we can win it all. It’s obviously the farthest we’ve ever made it in the tournament. It’s amazing how many fans we’ve gotten out here. We’re looking forward to the next game.”
Venezia put the Red Devils (14-7-2) on top in the second period on a short-handed goal.
With 2:04 left in the period, Venezia was able to block a shot by Bernards’ (11-8-3) Vince Petruolo that teammate Chris Dolan was able to corral.
Holding possession of the puck, Dolan fed it over Venezia, who had nothing but a clear path in front of him after getting up off the ice. Venezia skated down center ice, put a move on Bernards goaltender Coleman Merchant and buried it to put the Red Devils in front.
“I called for the puck and Chris gave it to me,” Venezia said. “The Bernards goalie is big so I knew I had to make a move.”
Another Venezia goal made the score 2-0 in the third period before Petruolo scored for Bernards late to make it interesting.
Siani made 19 saves while his counterpart Merchant made 22 saves.