The players and coaches that make up the Bridgewater-Raritan High School ice hockey team may not want to admit it, but, as it stands through the first half of the season, the Panthers are the best team within the Skyland Conference.
Dispatching another conference rival on Wednesday night, Bridgewater-Raritan took down Hunterdon Central at the Bridgewater Sports Arena, 3-0, earning their fourth shutout of the season and running its record to 8-0-2.
“When we run our system, we’re pretty hard to beat,” said forward Will Dimock after the game. “We returned a lot of kids from last year and we play like one unit. We control the pace of the game and that’s how we win.”
The Panthers have controlled the pace virtually all season and it was no different on Wednesday as they set the scene right of the gates courtesy of Dimock in the first period.
With Hunterdon Central (3-6-1, 3-2-1 Skyland) on the power play in the early stages of the opening period, Dimock held possession of the puck skating down the boards and was able to put one through the five-hole of Red Devil goalie Carter Siani, giving his Panthers a short-handed goal.
The junior wasn’t done helping his squad, however.
Minutes later, Dimock came down the ice in the offensive zone and received help from fellow juniors Eddie Weissman and Brett Goldstein, assisting him on his second goal of the first period.
“Coach has been telling us to drive the net all year,” Dimock said, describing the whole sequence. “I went right to the net, created havoc and poked it right in.”
Head coach Patrick Alvin believed the offense would be the team’s strength this season. But when you factor in how good the defense has been, allowing just 1.4 goals per game entering Wednesday night, that strength may be slanted to the other unit.
“I can’t be any more pleased about the amount of goals we give up a game,” Alvin said. “That’s a great credit to, not only our defenseman or our goalie, but team ‘D.'”
Anchoring the Panthers defense has been senior goaltender Mickey Avenoso, who picked up his fourth shutout of the year.
The Panthers now stand alone atop the conference with their 5-0-1 Skyland mark and can thank Avenoso along with Goldstein and fellow defenseman Ian Anderson for locking up the backend.
“It’s a team system,” said Alvin about his defensive unit. “We try to force teams wide. If one kid gets beat, the next guy has to step up. When we give our opponent bad angle shots, we know Mickey is going to gobble it up and make the save.”
In their three victories thus far this season, Hunterdon Central has scored 18 goals. However, in their six losses, the Red Devils have managed to amass a paltry total of three.
Needless to say, it has been an up and down season to this point, indeed.
“I don’t think there’s any rhyme or reason to it,” Hunterdon Central coach Paul Cavanaugh said about his team’s offensive inconsistencies. “Hopefully that ratio evens out a little bit as the season moves along because when we win, we seem to win comfortably. When we lose, we can’t seem to score at all.”
The Red Devils had opportunities in the second and third periods after their sluggish start and one would have to think that their fortunes will turn sooner or later as the season begins to move into the latter half.
“As coaches, we’re not going to beat the kids up for tonight’s loss because we know they left it all on the line,” Cavanaugh said. “We showed a lot of heart today. Guys were playing on one leg until they literally couldn’t play anymore. We came in here and played well. I think that’s something that we can carry into Friday night against Montgomery. If we play the way we played tonight, I don’t see us losing many more games the rest of the way.”