The New Jersey Titans took the second end of a home-and-home against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights with a 6-3 victory at Middletown Sports Complex Saturday night.
Matt Ladd made his first start since December 1 and stopped 33 of the 36 shots he faced. He spoke after the game about playing for the first time in nearly two months.
“I felt pretty good. I thought in the first, I felt a little rusty, after that, I settled in and thought everyone played well for me, and that’s all I could ask for,” he said. “It’s also nice to have the home fans behind your back supporting you, it’s always a good feeling.”
Head coach Craig Doremus said Ladd was able to adapt quickly in the win despite his lengthy absence from the lineup.
“I thought Matt competed and battled. Not being in the net for a couple months, I thought he fought a little early, but once he got a sense of the game, he eased in pretty well,” he said. “I know it’s not easy to come back in the net in a high-pressure situation, but it’s a big win for him and we’re happy to get Matty back on the ropes.”
Jimmy Dowd Jr., Wade Novak and Andrew Husted each recorded a goal and an assist, as the Titans improve its record to 17-13-2.
Tyler Antonucci opened the scoring just 27 seconds into the game, while Husted cashed in his eighth goal of the season to give New Jersey a 2-1 lead after the first period.
The Knights came out strong in the second period, but Ladd made some key saves to keep them off the board. Both teams traded a few penalties with neither team converting on the man advantage, but it was Ryan Wheeler who finally broke through at 17:09. Scoring on a perfectly executed three-on-two, Wheeler notched his third goal of the season, and his first since October 22.
In the waning seconds of the middle frame, Novak made a backhand pass that banked off the skates of a Knights’ defender and into the net, giving him his eighth goal of the season.
Kyle Jeffers and Dowd pitched in two more goals in the third period to maintain the Titans’ three-goal lead. Scoring on a tap-in from point-blank range, Dowd was able to pick up his second of the season, and his first goal in front of the home crowd.
“Husted was just battling down low, I just snuck in front and he hit me back door for an empty net, so it was a great play by Huey,” Dowd said of the goal.
Gabe Temple, Michael Morrissey and Jack Olmstead all scored for the Knights (21-11-3), who suffered its first regulation loss against the Titans this season.
There was no lack of physicality last night, either. Justin Bofshever dropped the gloves for the second consecutive game. On Friday he went toe-to-toe with Matt Kidney, then faced Blake Kryska the following night, with each party receiving a four-minute double minor for roughing. Reed Robinson of the Knights threw a vicious check on Kyler Head, who left the game after the play, and was given a game-misconduct for checking from behind.
When talking about the home-and-home split, Doremus said there was more to improve in the win than the loss in Wilkes-Barre from the previous night.
“We were actually more happy with our overall game yesterday than we were today. Funny how that works out, where after a loss you’re okay with your game, then you win a hockey game and you’re displeased with some of the stuff that goes on,” he said. “But getting two points at home is important and I’m happy with the results.”
This was only the 10th home game for the Titans, who have an 8-2-0 record in front of the Middletown crowd. Based on the raucous atmosphere on Saturday night, Doremus said it will be a big boost for New Jersey since 20 of their last 28 games are home.
“I’m excited to be in Middletown with the crowd behind us. Our community has come out and supported us throughout the season. The fans want to be part of a winning environment and I think we provided that tonight. The crowd tonight was very good, and hopefully people hear about it have a good time and continue to support us because we’re going to need it with the 20 home games remaining on our schedule,” he said.
The Titans will play two more home games this Friday and Saturday, as they host the first-place Philadelphia Rebels.