The New Jersey Titans’ offense was firing on all cylinders on Saturday night as they defeated the Maryland Black Bears by a score of 5-3 at Middletown Sports Complex.
Ryan Naumovski paced the offense with three points (1g, 2a) while Kyle Jeffers scored two goals and Zach Nazzarett finished the game with a pair of assists. Ryan Winter made 28 saves to earn the victory and is now 2-0-0 since joining the Titans.
“Today we got rewarded, did some good things in all three zones and got bounces that found its way into the back of their net,” said Titans head coach Craig Doremus. “Overall it’s a step in the right direction, tomorrow is another day and we have to be even better.”
Both teams traded quality scoring chances early in the game, but Naumovski broke though late in the first period with his ninth goal of the season. Brody Medeiros took a shot that bounced off the end boards and popped into the air, where the Niagara commit batted the puck out of mid-air and past Black Bears goaltender David Tomeo.
New Jersey doubled its lead in the second period when Kyler Head took the puck away from Tomeo behind the goal line and set up Thomas Lacombe, who shot the puck into an open net for his fifth goal of the season. The Black Bears responded at 13:01 when Luke Mountain deflected a shot from the point and past Winter for his third goal of the season.
With just over four minutes remaining in the second period, Jeffers restored the two-goal lead with a sensational goal. He corralled the puck at his own blue line, made a toe drag around one defender at center ice, made another toe drag in the offensive zone, and roofed a backhanded shot high-glove side.
“It was kind of a broken play, I found a lane and just took it. I threw the puck on net and the goal just happened” Jeffers said of his highlight-reel-worthy goal.
Naumovski was on the ice for Jeffers’ goal, and after the game he talked about the improvement he has seen from his linemate compared to last season.
“I got the chills watching it. Last year he was struggling a bit trying to hit the net and generate chances, this year he’s all over the ice and making those kind of moves. It makes me so happy for him,” he said.
Jeffers scored again 47 seconds into the third period when a shot bounced off the end boards and went right to his stick, as he buried his team-leading 17th goal of the season. Eric Manoukian made it a 5-1 game when he took a wrister from the blue line. Tomeo got a piece of it with his blocker, but the puck bounced over him and into the net.
The Black Bears managed to reduce the deficit thanks to a pair of goals by Daylon Mannon. Less than a minute after Manoukian’s goal, Mannon threw a puck across the crease on a two-on-one, which hit a Titans’ skate and into the net. At 14:40, Jonathan Young rang a shot off the post and bounced right to Mannon, who buried a power-play goal to make it 5-3. Maryland ended up pulling Tomeo for the extra attacker, but the Titans were able to hang on for the victory.
Doremus spoke about the line combination of Jeffers, Naumovski and Nazzarett, who combined for three goals and seven points in the win over the Black Bears.
“We expect them to be at the forefront of our attack on a day-in and day-out basis. I don’t want to sit here and say I’m thrilled with them, but I thought today was a step in the right direction for them, all three of them found the scoresheet,” Doremus said. “We just need it to carry over and need consistency from that top line. They were put together for a reason and we need them to consistently give our team offense.”
The Titans have a quick turnaround and will face the Black Bears today at 3 p.m. Last week the Titans had a similar schedule against the Rebels last weekend and were shut out 4-0 in their Sunday game. Naumovski spoke about the steps he and the team will make to prevent another matinee burnout.
“We’re going to need a good recovery night, hydrate for tomorrow and come out with that same energy and mental strength and come out strong in that opening period,” he said.