The offense of the Bridgewater-Raritan High School ice hockey team has won the Panthers plenty of games over the past two seasons. This year, they’re hoping their defense helps win them a championship.
After two straight unsuccessful trips to the NJSIAA Public A Tournament final, Bridgewater-Raritan is hoping its backline, led by senior defensemen Ian Anderson and Brett Goldstein– a duo many consider tops in the state — will be the difference between the Panthers leaving the Prudential Center empty handed again this March or bringing some hardware back to Somerset County.
“When you put a team together, your first concern is you put three goals in per game to give yourself a great chance of winning,” said B-R coach Patrick Alvin, whose team finished 20-5-3 last season but fell to Morris Knolls in the state final after succumbing to Randolph in the 2012-13 championship game. “But I think we’re looking at this year a little bit differently. I have never had such a dynamic defensive core like this before, ever, so we’re building the team from the backline out.”
With the graduation of Tyler Darby, who scored 17 goals and posted 19 assists last season, the presence of Anderson and Goldstein should prove even more key that it has the past three seasons. Both are four-year varsity letter winners, and each brings his own set of strengths to the position.
Anderson, who Alvin said features a little more offensive potential, carries a GPA near 4.0 and uses those smarts on the ice.
“He’s one of those guys that sees a play develop two passes before it happens,” Alvin said. “Nobody anticipates like he does.”
“Basically, just keep it simple,” Anderson said of his on-ice philosophy. “Keep what we’ve been doing, don’t try and be the hero. Just get the puck up to the forwards, join a rush every once in a while, and just play my game. You see a play develop and you try and make your own impact on it.”
Goldstein, meanwhile, is more of a stout defensive defenseman, Alvin said. He is the Bridgewater-Raritan senior class president who will head to NJIT next season on a lacrosse scholarship, and, like Anderson, fills a key leadership role on and off the ice.
“I think he’s the prototypical leader of a team,” Alvin said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a captain have all the qualities that he has. He’s vocal, he gets to know all the players, regardless of their age, he works his butt off in practice, he listens and is receptive, and when we sit down with the captains, he’s willing to voice his opinion and make suggestions to the coaches.”
With Goldstein’s brother, Jake on the club for the first time, joining fellow freshman Jake Gottleib, whose older brother Dillon is one of the leading forwards for the Panthers, that leadership role has taken on a whole new meaning this season.
“We just give them something to look up to,” Brett Goldstein said. “I always lead by example, so if I’m pushing myself as hard as I can I’m hoping the younger guys (do). Hopefully they can look up to us and see what we’re doing and take that in for next year and this year.”
Sophomore Sarik Vasani, who moved from forward to defensemen last season, will also be a key part of the unit, as Bridgewater-Raritan looks to improve even on last year’s impressive defensive numbers. The Panthers allowed just 1.5 goals per game and post eight shutouts, and Alvin feels if you put the three of those together, there’s no defensive trio in the state in the public rank that’s as good.
“The joke around the practice has been that the goal is to give up no goals this year,” said Goldstein, who will play in front of new goalies, Josh Garner and Corey Fewer.
While the defense might be at the forefront, the Panthers still boast plenty of offense, including senior center Will Dimock, who missed the last 13 games last season with an injury after posting 21 points in 15 games. Junior Alec Casiero and senior Jordan Peterson will also have big roles in the offense.
“The biggest thing that we’re going to be stressing this year is system,” said Alvin, whose team opens with Cranford on Friday night, before facing rival Ridge the following evening at Bridgewater Sports Arena with a chance to avenge last year’s loss in the Skyland Cup final. “Some of the major changes we’ve made has to do with how we play offensively, and special teams was a major weakness last year, despite having such talented players. We have the ability, it’s just a matter of putting it all together.”
“We’ve just got to keep clicking. The last couple of years we’ve been a really close team,” Anderson said. “We’ve really bonded together and took the season as far as we’ve been able to. But this year, in order to get over that hump, everyone has to stay together and keep working hard.”
“It’s pretty much laid out to win a state championship this year,” Goldstein said. “We’re returning a lot of players, but we can’t think we have it in the bag or anything. We have to work hard and take it one game at a time.”
Staff writer Simeon Pincus – SPincus@NJPressMedia.com and on Twitter @SimeonPincus