Kyler Head scored two power-play goals and added an assist in the New Jersey Titans’ 5-2 win over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights at Middletown Sports Complex Saturday night.
Ryan Wheeler and Hunter Alden also had three-point nights (three assists each), while Matt Ladd stopped 35 of the 37 shots he faced to pick up the win. The victory gives the Titans a 1-0 series lead in the East Division semifinal of the Robertson Cup Playoffs.
The Titans struck first at 7:39 of the opening period, when Ryan Naumovski swung around the Knights’ goal and took a shot from the top of the circle that beat David Tomeo five hole. Then with 1:24 remaining in the first, Head doubled the lead with a power-play goal by cashing in from a shot at close-range.
Undeterred by the deficit, the Knights responded with two unanswered goals. With 14 seconds remaining in the first, Shay Donovan scored on a tap-in from an odd-man rush. Then, a minute and 11 seconds into the second period, a clearing attempt took a bounce off a stanchion in the glass and went right to the stick of Curtis Carlson, who wired a shot past Ladd to even the score.
“There’s nothing you can do about that goal,” said Wade Novak. “We just had to settle ourselves down at the bench, and I think we were able to do that.”
After that tying goal, the Titans would go on to score the next three. At 13:09 of the second period, Zach Faremouth chopped at a loose puck, popped over the head of Tomeo and went into the net.
The game took a physical turn when Blake Kryska made a knee-on-knee hit on Hunter Alden at center-ice. The Knights’ defenseman was given a five-minute major, giving the Titans an extended power play. Alden, who recovered from the hit, took a slap shot from the point that deflected off Head’s skate and in the net, giving the Titans a 4-2 with under a minute remaining in the second.
“I was just standing in front and we were running our power play. Hunter got one on net and it just happened to hit my skate and go in,” Head said of his second goal. “We’ve been working a lot this week on special teams and going over all of our sets.”
Head picked up his third point of the night when he and Wheeler set up Novak for a goal off an odd-man rush. It gave the Titans a 5-2 lead with 9:46 left in the third period.
“It was a three-on-two with Wheeler and Kyler Head, I was the third guy so I was driving wide, Kyler drew the two defenseman back and Wheeler fed me back door. I was open so I was just lucky enough get the pass,” Novak said of his goal.
Doremus commended his team on bouncing back after the Knights’ second goal. The Titans had some trouble hanging onto leads late in the season, but they continued to play their game and ended up walking away with the victory.
“I don’t think you could have responded any better. That (Knights) second goal was a bad bounce off the stanchion, ends up on their stick and they were able to capitalize,” he said. “But I couldn’t be any happier for our guys and their ability to be resilient, and not only resilient, but also push through some adversity there. It’s a positive sign and a step for us, it was probably something earlier in the year that we’re not mentally or physically capable of doing.”
He also spoke about Head, who recorded six goals and seven assists in 32 games in the regular season after returning from the USHL and joining the Titans for a second year.
“Kyler has been a kid who I think has put in some good work over the past couple of weeks. I know he was hungry and looking forward to the playoffs and he wants to play a big role on our team, and I’m very happy he was able to give us a big effort tonight and find the back of the net.”
The Titans now have a chance to take a 2-0 series lead over the Knights with Game 2 coming up tonight at Middletown Sports Complex. Puck drop is scheduled for 5 p.m. and the game will be streamed on hockeytv.com.