By Paul Silverfarb
In a game that the Brunswick School ice hockey team desperately wanted to win, it was the heroics of senior captains Nick VanBelle and Christian LeSueur that gave the Bruins a thrilling 2-1 victory over Hotchkiss School Monday night at the Hartong Rink.
“We are taking it one at a time,” Brunswick School head coach Ron VanBelle said. “It’s a long season and a tough schedule. They are working hard, they are putting the effort in and as a coach that’s all I can ask for. That are doing everything in their power to show up and work hard on non-game days and then show up for games and play really well, like they did today.”
With the score knotted at 1-1 and heading into overtime, Ron VanBelle’s message to his team was to get everything to the net.
And that worked to perfection. With only 1:31 gone by in the overtime session, Charles Shaffer got the pass from Nick VanBelle and fired a shot at net at point-blank range. After the Hotchkiss goalie was unable to corral the rebound, Nick VanBelle gained a stick on the puck and buried the shot in the back of the net for the thrilling 2-1 victory.
“When Nick intercepted that pass in corner, he just threw it at the net because he knew Charles was there,” Ron VanBelle said. “The puck bounced around a little bit and came right back to him. He had a pretty easy tap-in once that puck found its way back to him. But once again that’s an example of a dirty goal in the blue paint by getting the puck to the net and crashing the paint. It’s what you have to do in overtime, but you should do that all the time.”
The goal was Nick VanBelle’s 13th of the season and couldn’t have come at a better time.
However, the overtime winner might never have happened. Late in the third period, Hotchkiss was working the puck deep in the Brunswick zone. In the high slot, Hotchkiss fired a shot at what appeared to be an open net. However, LeSueur was there to step in front of the speeding puck and block the shot off his chest to keep the score tied at 1-1.
“I had a coach that used to say ‘block shots, win games,’” Ron VanBelle said. “It’s no fun blocking shots, but it’s a big part of the game. I think that play was huge and kept Hotchkiss from taking the lead. He’s a big-time player and made a big-time play.”
After a scoreless first period, the duo of Nick VanBelle and LeSueur were also a part of the team’s first goal of the contest. With less than five minutes gone by in the period and the team’s skating 4-on-4, VanBelle gained control of the puck in the neutral zone and blasted a pass to LeSueur, who darted up the center of the ice on the breakaway.
Instead of going for the fancy breakaway goal, LeSueur skated down the ice, made one quick move that got the Hotchkiss goalie out of position. From there LeSueur drilled the shot in the back of the net for the 1-0 lead.
It was LeSueur’s ninth goal of the season.
The goal took a lot of pressure off the Bruins, as Brunswick was knocking on the doorstep throughout much of the first period. Aaron Aboodi, Shaffer, Tommy Napolitano and Patrick Burkinshaw each had stellar opportunities at giving the Bruins the early 1-0 lead, but either the puck hit the post, missed the net by mere inches or the Hotchkiss goal was up to the task.
“That’s sports,” Ron VanBelle said. “We were the better team in the first period and any time you can’t find the back of the net, the guys get a little frustrated. They started pressing a little more and the next thing you know, it’s 1-1 going into the third period. At that point I thought we won the first two periods, in terms of pace and energy and I thought we got the better of them.
The final period in regulation saw both teams with a plethora of opportunities to take the lead.
“The third period and overtime was just some good, back-and-forth hockey. It’s almost a shame that someone had to lose that game because both teams had a lot of chances in that third period and both goalies really played well. A lot of guys were blocking shots and dumping the puck in, so both teams played that third period really well.”
Senior Strauss Mann was stellar for Brunswick between the pipes, stopped 26 shots that Hotchkiss fired off and pushed aside several odd-man rushes.
With the victory, Brunswick upped its record to 7-5-1 overall and 4-1 in the Founders League. More importantly the Bruins are defending its house, going 3-0 this season at the Hartong Rink.
A game earlier at the Gunnery Showcase, Brunswick competed against a tough Taft School team and the outcome was far from what the head coach and the rest of the Bruins expected, falling 8-4. After the disappointing outing against Taft, Van Ron VanBelle challenged his squad.
“We had three really good practices between our last game and tonight’s game,” VanBelle said. “They were tough practices that were high energy. We really challenged the team and said that we can’t get beat. Taft beat us and we are the type of team that needs to come and bring the energy every single shift and period.
The message for Brunswick against Hotchkiss Monday night at home was simple, as Ron VanBelle didn’t want his team to be beaten.
“I didn’t want the team to lose the battles, the head coach said. “We needed that high-energy and to be that harder working team.”
And it showed on defense. Brunswick, which gave up eight goals in its previous game against Taft, played significantly better Monday night.
“Defensively we had a really nice game in our zone,” Ron VanBelle said. “We were struggling lately taking care of the puck in our own zone. I feel like this game against Hotchkiss reminded me of some of my teams in the past, where we were solid on defense. The score showed that because we only gave up one goal. We haven’t been taking as good as care of business in our end as we should and this game we did that.”
Tomorrow, the Bruins will battle familiar foe Millbrook School. Earlier this season at the Buffalo Tournament, the Bruins were tied with Millbrook 2-2 heading into the final minute of regulation. However, a penalty shot for Millbrook with 30 seconds gave them the 3-2 win.