The New Jersey Titans ended a four-game losing streak on Friday night with a 4-2 victory over the Northeast Generals at Middletown Sports Complex .
Gavin Gulash picked up two goals and an assist while Titans goaltender Brandon Perrone made 35 saves in the win. The team’s record improves to 23-21-1, and head coach Craig Doremus spoke about the game and how important it was to get back on the win column.
“The standings have gotten uncomfortably tight, and it’s a big win. Northeast has been a tough matchup throughout the year, Bryan (Erickson) and Joe (Lovell) do such a good job with their team and preparation level, so it’s always a battle,” Doremus said. “Any time you can beat those guys it’s big. But it’s on to the next one and we have to make sure that we’re ready to go for tomorrow.”
The Generals struck first at 7:55 when a loose puck slid right to the stick of Hunter Alden, as he tapped in his second goal of the season. It also happened to be Alden’s first game in Middletown since leaving the Titans at the end of last season.
Jake LaRusso evened the score with his first NAHL goal at 10:34. The Generals turned the puck over and left LaRusso all alone in the slot, and he flung a shot past David Fessenden’s glove to make it a 1-1 game.
“It was a great forecheck by my two linemates, Mitch (Machlitt) and Ryan (Naumovski). Then I saw the puck bounce out, I kinda blacked out for a moment but I ripped it and saw the puck go in,” said LaRusso.
Doremus spoke about the rookie forward, who started the season with the Titans 16U squad and recently signed a tender agreement with the NAHL team.
“Any time you see a young guy come in and have success is good. Jake fits in well with the guys on and off the ice to learn our style and tactics of how we approach the game,” Doremus said. “Whenever a guy is rewarded for their hard work, it only makes the buy-in that much easier. Jake has provided us a good spark, he’s been refreshing for our group and a real nice addition.”
Gulash gave the Titans a 2-1 lead at 3:25 of the second period. Shane Haviland took the initial shot, and Gulash put away the rebound for his 19th goal of the season. He nearly extended the lead a few minutes later with a shorthanded breakaway, but Fessenden lunged to his left and made the glove save.
Later in the period, the Generals took a pair of penalties that set the Titans up for a five-on-three power play. Just as the first penalty expired, a puck bounced across the crease, where Michael Outzen tapped in his 12th goal of the season and extended New Jersey’s lead to 3-1. Northeast responded a minute and 19 seconds later, when Matthew Rutigliano laid a cross-crease pass for Sviataslov Kuchynski, who beat Perrone and made it a one-goal game.
The Generals kept pushing for the tying goal in the third period, but Perrone was up t othe task and was perfect in the final period. Northeast’s best chance came at the midway point of the period, when Kuchynski slid a pass to Matt Rutigliano on the right side, and his one-timer was stopped by a sprawling Perrone. Ryan Bogan tried to direct the rebound in, but the puck went off of Perrone’s leg, was batted away by Brody Medeiros and stayed out.
“It was a little inner Marty Brodeur. I actually hit it with my calf up, and then it hit Brody. It was a double save and good teamwork there so I was happy. I think I should bring him out to dinner or something,” Perrone said of his save.
Fessenden was eventually pulled for the extra attacker, but Gulash used it to his advantage and extended the lead. He gained the red line and fired the puck into the empty net for his second goal of the game and 20th of the season.
“It’s nice to be able to produce for the team on a consistent basis,” Gulash said. “We weren’t naive to the fact that these guys were catching up to us in the standings, they have two games in hand on us so we knew that we had to come out and put together a good effort to pick up the win.”
Gulash, who will be heading to the Top Prospects Tournament next week, now has four goals in his last three games. Doremus spoke about the Red Bank native and how he’s been able to step up his offensive game.
“Gavin’s game continues to flourish. Coming into the year, he wasn’t only looking for a breakout year, but having a consistently dominant season and I think he’s really come on in the past couple months,” he said. “He’s done a good job of contributing offensively on a day-to-day basis regardless of who we’re playing him with. He’s such a big part of our team and any time he’s able to find the back of the net it’s a huge boost to our club.”
Doremus also spoke about Perrone’s effort in goal. The Long Island native has started 12 consecutive games for the Titans and has bounced back after a rather tumultuous start to the season.
“He’s gone through the peaks and valleys of junior hockey here. It hasn’t always been the best of days for him, but he always puts his best foot forward though his work ethic, preparation and his approach to the game,” Doremus said. “Obviously we’re riding him a bit here, he’s responded with some really strong efforts, and I think most importantly as a goaltender he’s given us a chance to win day in and day out. As I’ve said for three years now, he’s going to make a college coach extremely happy.”
The Titans’ win also snapped a three-game losing streak against the Generals, with their last win against them dating back to December 21. New Jersey has a chance to sweep the back-to-back with another game tonight at 7:30 p.m.
Most of the players agreed that recovering physically and staying mentally strong is the key for winning the second end of a back-to-back, and Perrone offered his take on what the team needs to accomplish for tonight’s game.
“When we’re on our forecheck and hard to play against, nobody can compete with us,” Perrone said. “We just need to be hard to play against, finish our checks and keep up the intensity.”
Photo Credit: Pete MacDonald (Twitter: @PMacDonald51)