The New Jersey Titans fell to the Johnstown Tomahawks in Game 4 at Middletown Sports Complex by a score of 3-1 on Saturday night, and lost Game 5 on the road by a score of 5-0 the following night.
For the second time in the Titans’ four-year history in New Jersey, the team fell just one game short of reaching the Robertson Cup Tournament in Blaine, Minnesota. It was also the second time the Titans have been knocked out by the Tomahawks, with the first time being 2016.
The Tomahawks came out strong in the first period of Game 4, outshooting the Titans by a margin of 18-4. They opened the scoring at 15:07, when Oliver Benwell slipped a pass right in front to Samuel Solensky, who slid a backhander into a wide open net to give the Tomahawks a 1-0 lead. Roman Kraemer extended the lead at 17:12, as Cam Hebert made a nifty deke off the faceoff and set up Hebert for an easy tap-in.
New Jersey pushed back in the second period and out-shot the Tomahawks 10-4. Ryan Naumovski managed to cut the deficit in half with his second goal of the playoffs at 14:56. He finished a pretty tic-tac-toe passing play from Jake LaRusso and Zach Nazzarett and slammed home a one-timer from point-blank range.
“We just came into the locker room after the first period to talk about our effort and how we needed to give 100 percent before we even think about scoring a goal,” Naumovski said. “The goal definitely gave us a little energy and a bit of a spark heading into the third period. We did everything we could, but we just couldn’t bury it at the end of the day.”
Oliver Benwell put the game out of reach when he scored a power-play goal at 8:23 of the third period. He pounced on a loose puck and took numerous whacks in the crease before he was finally able to knock it past a sprawling Perrone. The score held, as the Tomahawks managed to take the series back to their home ice.
“I thought Johnstown came out with a level of desperation that we weren’t able to meet. Their puck pressure was excellent, their forecheck was excellent, they played with a lot of conviction and our guys got a little caught up in the moment,” Doremus said of the Game 4 loss. “I thought our response was good. not great tonight but good, there was a no quit attitude without a doubt, and I thought (Carter) McPhail played really well for them throughout the game and made some big saves, as did our goaltender, but nonetheless we come up short.”
The series shifted back to 1st Summit Arena the following night, and the first period was evenly matched with each team firing seven shots on goal. Gavin Gulash appeared to give the Titans a 1-0 lead when he slammed home a rebound, but the goal was waved off due to goaltender interference.
In the second period, it appeared to that the was tilting in Johnstown’s favor as they started pouring in more shots on goal. Perrone made some excellent saves to keep it scoreless, but Pavel Kharin finally broke through at the 4:30 mark. He ripped a one-timer from just above the goal line and tucked it under the crossbar for his second goal of the playoffs.
Johnstown continued to build the lead in the third period, as Hebert, Solensky, Mitchell Hale and Merrell all scored in the final 20 minutes of regulation. The Tomahawks walked away with a 5-0 win and punched its first-ever ticket to the Robertson Cup Tournament.
“Once we went down by two we had to take some chances and they were able to capitalize. Getting a goal disallowed early in the game came back to bite us,” Doremus said of the Game 5 loss. “It was a hard-fought series that quite frankly could’ve went either way. Unfortunately for us we came up on the short side of it.”
While the Titans won its second ever playoff series and had their longest playoff run in New Jersey, Doremus said there is still a sense of disappointment in not reaching the Robertson Cup Tournament. After four seasons, the Titans have yet to win the East Division Title.
“The end of the season is not easy. Aside from winning a title it is disappointment and failure, and I don’t accept moral or small victories. Our fans, community and players want a Robertson Cup and that is our goal each and every season,” he said.
With the season coming to an end, Doremus also took the time to reflect on the season, and how he grew with his team both on and off the ice.
“It’s sad to have the season end and see kids moving on knowing you you won’t get to coach them again, but the relationship and memories formed are remarkable. It’s amazing the impact these young men have on our franchise and community, even with myself personally. They become like my own children and I care about them a lot. I want to see them continue to grow and prosper in college and I will always look back on our time together fondly.”