The New Jersey Titans played its home opener against the Johnstown Tomahawks on Friday night in front of a raucous crowd at Middletown Sports Complex. But in a span of 31 seconds, Johnstown managed to suck the life out of the building with three first-period goals, en route to a 5-2 win over New Jersey.
Alex Wilkins made a nifty toedrag along the goal line and slid a pass to the middle, but it deflected off Perrone’s stick, went over his shoulder and in the net at 11:44 of the first period. Christian Gorsack doubled the lead 12 seconds later when he carried the puck in the Titans’ zone, had his initial shot blocked but buried his second chance.
Cam Gendron took a penalty off the ensuing faceoff, and Carson Briere corralled a loose puck between the hash marks and fired a wrist shot to the top corner. Starting goaltender Brandon Perrone was pulled in favor of Matt Ladd, who went on to play the rest of the game.
“Unfortunately for us, we can’t get out of our own way. It’s been problematic thus far in the early part of the year,” said Titans head coach Craig Doremus. “We’re making turnovers and not managing pucks in critical areas of the ice, and unfortunately for us right now they’re ending up in the back of our net.”
The Titans appeared to regain momentum when Gavin Gulash made it a 3-1 game 46 seconds into the second period. Ryan Naumovski threw a pass from the half-wall to Gulash, and he buried a wrister past Tomahawks goaltender Carter McPhail for his first goal of the season.
That momentum was derailed by Samuel Solensky when he peeled off the side boards and walked straight down the middle of the ice to slip a backhander five-hole on Ladd, restoring the Tomahawks’ three-goal lead at 15:43.
Johnstown struck again at 19:50 when Solensky was behind the goal line and threw a puck on goal. It ricocheted off Ladd, bounced off Bennett Stockdale’s chest and into the net. The referee initially waved off the goal, ruling that it was intentionally directed in by Stockdale’s hand, but the call was reversed after a discussion among the officials. The Titans’ bench disputed the call and was assessed a bench minor for unsportsmanlike conduct.
“Nobody likes to see those kind of calls,” said Titans defenseman Spencer Stanley. “It’s a tough call to get for your team, but you’ve got to keep playing and hopefully you get more shots and your team starts playing better.”
Broday Medeiros managed to close the gap with a third-period goal. Thomas Lacombe set him up with a drop pass, and the defenseman flung a wrist shot from the blue line that went over McPhail’s blocker for his first goal as a Titan. It was the last goal the Titans could muster, as the loss sets them back to a 4-3-0 record.
Stanley spoke about the 31-second breakdown in the first period and how it proved to be a turning point in the game.
“We definitely competed but our bench was a little slow, some of the guys weren’t playing with as much confidence as they usually are,” he said.
The Tomahawks improve to a 5-2-0 record with the victory, and Doremus gave full credit to their team’s performance.
“It’s a veteran group, and once (the Tomahawks) had the lead they were really just able to focus on not allowing us to have any sustained offensive attack and hold down the game when they needed to, and at the same time they still won the shot clock. They were better than us in every aspect of the game,” Doremus said.
Both teams return to action tonight at Middletown Sports Complex for the second end of the back-to-back, and fans will have an opportunity to skate with the Titans after the game. Puck drop is slated for 7 p.m. and will be streamed on hockeytv.com.