The Vaarwerk Show
Jamestown Rebels Win Game 1 Of East Division Finals Against New Jersey Titans
MIDDLETOWN, N.J. — On Thursday, Jak Vaarwerk was named to the North American Hockey League’s All-Rookie Team.
On Friday, the East Amherst native continued to make quite a first impression in the Robertson Cup playoffs.
Vaarwerk netted a hat trick, capped by his league-leading seventh goal and 12th point of the postseason, as the Jamestown Rebels won Game 1 of the East Division finals against the New Jersey Titans 6-2 at Middletown Ice World Arena.
“Jak’s the best player in the league,” Jamestown head coach Joe Coombs said postgame. “He’s really good. I think Jak is a better hockey player today than he was a month ago.”
Game 2 of the best-of-five series is set for 7 p.m. tonight back in Middletown.
Vaarwerk assisted on the Rebels’ first goal Friday when he backhanded a puck out of the Jamestown defensive zone. The puck was misplayed by a New Jersey defenseman and found its way on to the stick of Ryan Waltman, who took the puck from his forehand to his backhand before beating Andrew Takacs for a 1-0 lead with 12:31 remaining.
Rebels defenseman Noah Szretter made it 2-0 less than a minute later when Conor Sedlak skated around the Titans’ net and found Szretter open at the point. The Lancaster native shot a wrister through traffic that beat Takacs.
“This group has been a bit of an enigma all year with a bit of inconsistency,” Coombs said. “I’ve always felt they’ve had it in them. Tonight, I think it was the best hockey game we’ve played all year.”
With 5:25 left in the period, Jamestown took a commanding 3-0 lead. After a flurry of action in front of the net, Takacs lost his stick. Max Hamstad eventually got the puck to defenseman James Miller at the point. Takacs made the initial save on Miller’s shot, but Joshua Burke — who is playing forward with the Rebels down to 17 healthy skaters — corralled the rebound and put the puck past Takacs.
“Those guys that are capable of playing both positions, it doesn’t matter the team they are on, they are very valuable guys,” Coombs said of Burke. “He could go out one shift and play forward, come off the ice, and go back out in any situation as a defenseman. We’re really lucky to have him.
“With our injuries,” Coombs added, “next to Jak, Josh Burke is our most valuable player because of his versatility.”
The Titans made a period of it in the final five minutes. First, defenseman Anthony Mollica beat Rebels goaltender Nolan Suggs with a relatively harmless shot from a bad angle.
“We had three and quite honestly, the goal they scored, should’ve never gone in the net,” Coombs said. “Everybody in the building knew that.”
Then, while shorthanded, Jamestown allowed New Jersey’s Nick Ring to walk in from the point and beat Suggs through a screen in front of the net with 2:33 left in the opening period.
From there, it was the Jak Vaarwerk Show.
First, the East Division Rookie of the Year took an outlet pass from Kolby Amici, and using Titans defenseman Colin Grable as a screen, cut to the middle of the ice to beat Takacs with his fifth goal of the postseason.
Next, with 3:17 left in the middle period, Vaarwerk was sent in on a breakway from the New Jersey blue line and beat Takacs with a slick forehand-backhand move to make it 5-2.
“That’s probably the worst game I’ve seen them play live in the nine times we’ve played them,” Coombs said of the Titans. “We’ll be ready for a better game tomorrow.”
Finally, with just 3:49 left in the game, Sedlak controlled the puck in the Titans’ defensive zone and then found Vaarwerk open in the slot before he beat Takacs with his hat-trick goal.
“Jak is just growing,” Coombs said. “He out-thinks the opposition, out-executes them, and I’m glad he’s on our team.”
Suggs was credited with 22 saves while Takacs, the East Division’s Goaltender of the Year, made 28 for the Titans.
“Our ‘D’ did a really good job of moving pucks tonight. It went to the right places 95% of the time,” Coombs said. ” … Defensemen are the catalyst of your team. I thought everybody played really well.”
After Game 2 tonight, the series will shift to Jamestown for Game 3 at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and an if-necessary Game 4 at 7 p.m. Friday. If a Game 5 is needed, it would be next Sunday back in Middletown.
“We’ve got four more,” Coombs said, “to win two.”