BRICK – For a freshman netminder with less mental toughness than Jeremy Connor, one’s first start inside the Panther Pit – the Ocean Ice Palace’s alternative ego for Point Boro home games – could make for a stressful evening in the crease.
However, the St. John Vianney (2-0-0, 2-0-0) goaltender stood strong on Friday, stopping 41 shots in a 3-2 Lancers victory over Class A Central rival Point Boro (0-1-1, 0-1-1).
“You just try to keep your head in the game in an atmosphere like this, and not listen to the fans,” Connor said. “You have to block it all out and play like you usually would, like there’s nothing there.”
Connor worked hard early, recording 32 saves through the first two periods, 20 of which came in the opening frame.
“It’s not easy,” said Connor of stepping into the starting job as a freshman. “But I’m thankful that the coaches and the team have given me this opportunity to start. And I’m just trying to make the best of it.”
The Brick Hockey Club product certainly made the best of a tough spot against the Panthers, posting a shut out through the first 43 minutes of play, until the final 78 seconds of regulation when Point Boro pulled goalie Chris Belman – who made 28 saves – and with the extra attacker had Eric Dahl and Matt Kimak fire wrist shots through front-net traffic, which eluded the freshman’s quick glove.
“Jeremy has been phenomenal,” said Lancers second-year coach Mick Messemer, who celebrated his 31st birthday with the victory. “I’m really happy with the effort we had from everyone, but especially our goaltender. He’s a 14-year old, playing in the Panther Pit for the first time…It’s a really special win for him.”
The Lancers opened the game with three minor penalties, but with Connor in net killed off all three Panthers power plays, an early turning point according to Point Boro coach Alex DePalma.
“We just didn’t capitalize on those opportunities,” DePalma said. “We started with three early power plays, so you have your best guys out there, and we should score one there. If we do, maybe we get a lead, get some confidence, and maybe even take a freshman goalie off his game a bit. Starting off that way put the odds against us.”
Where the Panthers fell short with the extra man, the Lancers were able to take advantage, as junior Max Allen notched his first of the season by way of the power play at 2:51 of the second period.
Allen helped orchestrate more second period offense, pushing the puck out to the wing to freshman John Gelatt, who moved in on Belman and with a forehand-backhand move finished on his second goal in as many games at 9:51.
“Executing on our first power play after killing off three in a row was exciting and gave us a big lift,” Allen said. “Point Boro was working hard tonight, and we had to work hard too. We earned this one.”
With Ty Buckley on the assist, Mike Zani provided what would be the game-winning goal, weaving through three Panthers defenders before putting it past Belman at 1:12 for a 3-0 Lancers lead, before Dahl delivered the first of his varsity career, and Kimak recorded his first of the year.
“I take the way we finished as a positive,” said Kimak, the Panthers captain. “We proved to ourselves that we have the energy, we have the stamina, and we have the heart to go hard those last three minutes of the game…but I feel like we should have just done that the whole game.”