New Jersey Ends Jamestown’s Season
In the playoffs, the smallest little hiccup can cost a team.
A giant gaffe usually ends up in the back of the net.
The Jamestown Rebels learned that the hard way Friday night — and it ended their season.
A bad line change just over a minute into a third overtime period led to the New Jersey Titans’ Stephen Willey scoring the game-winning goal as the top-seeded Titans eliminated the third-seeded Rebels 3-2 in Game 4 of the North American Hockey League East Division finals at Northwest Arena.
“Long changes are a lot … we were down to 15-second shifts. Part of playing that many periods is out-changing and we got caught,” Jamestown head coach Joe Coombs said. “That was a really, really gutsy effort by our guys. I’m extremely proud of how far they came.”
The loss was even more crushing because Jamestown was less than a second away from forcing a Game 5 on Sunday in Middletown, New Jersey, before the Titans’ Anthony Calafiore scored with eight-tenths of a second remaining in regulation.
“We have given up more last-minute goals in periods and games than any team I’ve ever been a part of,” Coombs said. “We’ve tried to address it. We can talk all we want about the mistakes, but this group did a great job.”
Just over two extra periods later, disaster struck again for the Rebels. Attempting to break out of the defensive zone, Jamestown’s Nathan Jurrens sent the puck the length of the ice onto the stick of New Jersey goaltender Andrew Takacs. As three Rebels attempted a line change, Takacs sent a pass halfway up the ice to Willey, who got free from the remaining two Jamestown defenders, then beat goaltender Nolan Suggs with a forehand-backhand deke for the winning goal.
“He was absolutely outstanding. … It’s no fault of his,” Coombs said of Suggs, who was credited with a career-high 73 saves. “He should be able to hold his head extremely high because of how far he came.”
The Titans will now be the East Division’s representative in the Robertson Cup finals, which will pit four division winners against each other May 20-24 at Fogerty Arena in Blaine, Minnesota.
Armed with a 2-1 lead in the series, New Jersey took a 1-0 lead in the first period Friday when Billy Feczko got behind the Rebels defense and took a shot the Suggs got a piece of before it trickled over the goal line.
A quick burst early in the second period got Jamestown back into the game and even into the lead. First, Noah Szretter scored his fourth goal of the postseason with a wrist shot that beat Takacs on the power play with 16:45 remaining. Just 39 seconds later, the Rebels struck again when Amici took a pass from Max Hamstad in the high slot and beat Takacs with another high wrist shot.
Suggs took a tripping penalty with 9:05 remaining in the third period, but the best chance to come out of the ensuing power play was a shorthanded breakaway from Jak Vaarwerk that was stopped by Takacs.
“I think Jak was tired tonight,” Coombs said. “Jak is one to play a lot … as much as he bought into changing, he was tired. Double-shifting anybody was a little tough.”
The score remained 2-1 until Calafiore tied it with his second of the postseason in the dying seconds of regulation.
Jamestown was forced to survive three tense penalty kills in the first two overtime sessions while the Titans killed off a pair of penalties of their own.
“The first thing to go when you’re tired is your brain. There were a couple of opportunities we had … we told them to keep the game simple,” Coombs said. “I didn’t think in either overtime we were getting enough pucks to the net.”
Then Willey ended it, more than four hours after the initial puck drop.
“I really wish that we could have another crack at this whole league with the group we finished with healthy,” Coombs said. “I think we would’ve beaten that team. We gave it our best.”