The New Jersey Titans overcame a pair of one-goal deficits in the third period of a 5-4 shootout win against the Jamestown Rebels on Friday night at Middletown Sports Complex.
Ryan Naumovski scored twice, including a game-tying goal with 1:26 left in regulation. Mitch Machlitt scored the shootout-clinching goal while Brandon Perrone made 40 saves plus three stops in the shootout to help the Titans snap a three-game losing streak and pick up the team’s first win of 2019. Titans head coach Craig Doremus said he was pleased with the overall effort.
“It was a step in the right direction, it was growth by our team mentally, since it’s never easy coming back like that,” Doremus said. “I thought for our guys to respond with that kind of resiliency and ability to stick to the game plan is a credit to them, and a positive step for us moving forward.”
Jake LaRusso stole the spotlight in the win, as he picked up an assist and a shootout goal in his NAHL debut. The native of Colts Neck, NJ plays for the Titans’ 16U team of the AYHL, and got the call-up to the big squad after practicing with them over the week.
“Once Craig told me I was getting the call-up I was ecstatic and was just ready for the opportunity and was ready to go,” LaRusso said.
Jamestown opened the scoring at 10:37 of the first period when Colin Schmidt dished a cross-crease feed to Alex Frye, who tapped in his team-leading 21st goal of the season. The Titans, however, responded quickly with two breakaway goals. Kyler Head made a nifty move to the forehand and slid the puck around Rebels goaltender Noah West to even the score. One minute and 47 seconds later, Eric Manoukian flung a stretch pass to Naumovski, who lifted the puck over West’s glove for his 12th goal of the season.
Connor Linton evened the score at 13:11 of the second period with a power-play goal. Perrone made a sprawling save, but the rebound went right to Linton, who buried his first goal of the season. Nikki Jasko gave the Rebels a 3-2 lead during a four-on-four session, slamming home a rebound with just 1:17 left in the period.
The Titans came out strong in the third period, and at 13:11, Michael Outzen knotted the score after deflecting a shot from Spencer Stanley past West. Matteo Menotti set up Stanley and picked up the secondary assist for his first point as a Titan. Jamestown regained the lead just one minute and six seconds later when Frye circled around the net and slipped a shot under Perrone’s pads for his second goal of the game.
With just under two minutes remaining, LaRusso skated up the ice on the right side. As soon he crossed the Rebels’ blue line, he ripped a cross-ice pass to Naumovski, who fired a wrist shot over West’s glove. It was Naumovski’s second point of the game and LaRusso’s first point with the team.
“I saw Ryan coming in late from the left side, so I just passed it to him. Once I saw it go in I kinda blacked out a little bit, that’s all I really remember,” LaRusso said of the game-tying goal.
After a scoreless overtime, the game went into a shootout. Jasko and Schmidt scored in the first two rounds for the Rebels, but Shane Haviland and LaRusso also scored for the Titans. Stanley and Naumovski missed for the Titans while Perrone stopped Frye, Auggie Moore and Antonio Venuto. In the bottom of the fifth round, Machlitt ripped a shot five-hole to end the game and secure the Titans’ 5-4 win.
Doremus explained after the game that he wanted to give the players a say in who should go out for a shootout attempt.
“The guys work on these shootouts every day before and at the end of practices. It’s a unique skill and not for everybody, and some guys are really comfortable and confident going up to take a shot,” he said. “Obviously you want the guys to have ownership over our hockey team. That’s an important part of the game with two points up for grabs.”
When LaRusso’s name was called in the second round, he said there were some butterflies, but he managed to make a move to his forehand and beat West on a shot that went glove-side.
“I was happy, but also really nervous. There was a lot of people in the crowd, I knew it was a tight game and that we had all of the momentum going into it, so I knew if I put it in it would give us momentum for the next shooter,” LaRusso said. “I do that move almost every time. I felt pretty confident going into it, and once the puck went in, I kind of blacked out again.”
Doremus said he was pleased with the poise and overall performance of the 16-year-old forward.
“It’s a growing and learning experience for him. I thought he had some shifts in the first period where he was feeling it out, but as the game went on he seemed to get more and more comfortable,” he said. “I was happy with Jake’s effort and I hope he uses that as a stepping stone moving forward.”
Tonight, the Titans will face the Rebels again as they look to sweep the back-to-back, something they have not achieved since November 3-4. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. and will be available to watch on hockeytv.com.
Photo credit: Pete MacDonald (@PMacDonald51)