TOMS RIVER — The pre-season rankings by a multitude of Garden State hockey pundits lingered in the back of their minds when Wall Township traveled to the Winding River Skating Center for a Monday evening puck drop with Southern Regional.
In various polls, the Rams could be found ranked atop all public school powers in the Shore Conference, including the Knights — who made a Public B State Finals appearance last season — and that pecking order served as motivation in this early season clash of local titans, one in which Wall (2-0-0) skated to a decisive 6-2 decision over Southern (0-1-0).
“We have a lot of skill and a lot of depth on this team, and we wanted to show that tonight against a [Southern Regional] team that was rated ahead of us. We really brought it,” said winger Sean Kiewe, who provided a glimpse of his bright futureto come when he logged prominent minutes a season ago as a freshman for a club that secured a Conference Dowd Cup title.
EMERGING TALENT: However, the sophomore fully emerged as a game-changing talent in this non-divisional tilt with a pair of goals, including the opening marker with 8:36 remaining in the first period, when he scooped up a loose puck in the neutral zone, used a burst of speed to back down a defender and pulled the puck to his backhand before lifting a laser release over the glove of Southern Regional’s Cam Conrad — who made 23 saves in the game, but missed most of the second period due to a major penalty, allowing Anthony Scalvino to enter and stop all 13 shots faced — for an early Knights lead.
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“I was thinking about [driving the net] on the bench, and it was actually Colin Gabuzda who helped put the thought in my head, and pointed out that we could take advantage of the defensemen if we got them skating backwards. So I just decided to listen to him and went for it, and it worked out perfectly.”
Kiewe’s final tally of the night came by way of the power play, when the second-year standout maneuvered his way to the front of the crease, took slick dish by defenseman Bobby Seelinger from below the goal line and jammed it to the back of the net for a 5-1 Wall Township advantage.
“To have a guy like Sean contribute like this in a big win speaks to the depth of talent we have on this team, and it’s great for everyone,” said Knights top liner winger Larry Hooper. “It takes a lot of pressure off everybody when all lines are contributing. It allows you to have that trust in your teammates, that they’re going to be out there giving one-hundred percent and scoring goals. When all lines are contributing it helps us all play loose and fast.”
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SENIOR STANDOUTS: Hooper was part a first line unit of senior standouts that combined for 12 points and four goals in the victory, including his lone tally of the night, which came at 3:48 of the middle frame and made it a 4-1 game just 22 seconds after Paul Keyes put Southern Regional on the board.
“It was a big goal at a big point in the game for us,” said Hooper, who logged four points on the night. “They were coming back, they had just put one in, and our team has guys like that, who can switch momentum back in our favor right away. [Ryan] Burns made a great move to get a shot on goal, and I was in the right place at the right time to clean up the rebound.”
Burns — who logged a hat trick in Wall Township’s opening night win over Brick Memorial (11/26) — continued his hot start to the season with another couple of goals on Monday, jamming home a Zach Tarantino touch pass into the slot for a two-goal lead in the first period, before cranking a slapshot off the blocker-side post and in, staking the Knights to a 3-0 edge.
THE FACILITATOR: Tarantino’s first goal of the season came in the third period — following a Rams tally by David Lytle that closed out the second period — but it’s his ability to set up opportunities with elite vision and anticipation that has made this winger the foremost assist man in the Shore Conference since he entered the Wall Township program in 2015. Over that stretch — including the first two games of this 2017-18 campaign, in which he has registered seven helpers, including four on Monday — Tarantino’s 99 assists are the most of any local skater.
BEATTIE ON POINT: After steering aside all 13 shots faced in an opening night shutout of Brick Memorial, junior netminder Logan Beattie was stellar once again on Monday, stopping 22 of 24 and pushing his season save-percentage to .946.
UP NEXT: Wall Township hosts non-conference foe Monroe on Wednesday (Nov. 29) at 8:30 p.m., while Southern travels to Monroe on Friday (Dec. 1).