HHS ice hockey team needs to regroup

Raiders remain confident with states looming

By: John Beisser
   There’s an old adage that says adversity builds character and Hillsborough High ice hockey coach Jeff Kampf is banking on that saying holding true as the Raiders enter the stretch run of the season points towards the NJSIAA Tournament.
   Despite two tough losses last week, Hillsborough is still a tremendous team, in the midst of a terrific season. How many teams would love to sport a 19-3 record as Hillsborough currently does?
   In their first varsity season, the Raiders were breezing along at an amazing clip, destroying one out-manned foe after another en route to an 11-game winning streak and a sparkling 19-1 record. Kampf and the Raiders knew that consecutive tough games loomed, however, in the form of Montgomery and Bridgewater-Raritan.
   There is another time-honored adage that says it is difficult to beat the same team three times in a season. And it’s particularly difficult when that team is a good one as the Panthers are. With revenge on their minds from two earlier defeats at the hands of Hillsborough, Bridgewater turned the tables on the Raiders last Friday afternoon, coming away with a 2-0 victory at Aspen Ice in Flemington.
   Kevin Tino scored twice in the third period for Bridgewater, including an empty-net goal, and Gary Biggs made 37 saves. With the win, Bridgewater improved to 15-5-1. Eric Visnovsky made 32 saves for Hillsborough.
   Earlier in the week, on Feb. 7, Hillsborough ran into another buzz-saw in the form of Montgomery which, to that point, was the only team to have beaten the Raiders. The Cougars had scored a 1-0 verdict in the Somerset County Tournament championship game and they rolled to a 6-2 victory over Hillsborough at Ice Land in Hamilton Township in last week’s rematch.
   Hillsborough received power-play goals from Matt Janos and Dom Valenzano. Freshman Mike Violette scored his first of two goals just 1:55 into the second to give Montgomery a 3-1 edge. Junior Mike Yetter made it 4-1 with 8:38 left in the second Montgomery held a 36-21 advantage in shots.
   "I think these games will be a wake-up call for us," HHS junior forward Michael Lysyj said. "These teams were good. It felt like playoff hockey. I guess it’s better to lose now than in the states. We’ve had a great year to this point but it’s a long season. We’ve played 22 games and that takes a toll. Maybe playing all those one-sided games caught up to us. We now have to get re-focused for the final part of the season."
   Hillsborough has plenty on its plate in the coming weeks. First is a game vs. Governor Livingston on Friday, a contest in which the Raiders will be heavily favored. A win in that game will secure the Kelly Cup for Hillsborough, which goes to the Blue Division champion.
   Hillsborough also has its sights set on the state tournament. A seeding meeting will be held following the regular season. The public school quarterfinals will be held on March 13 at Mennen Sports Arena in Morristown. The state semifinals will be held at Continental Airlines Arena on March 18 with the finals set for March 20 at Continental Airlines Arena.
   "I am confident our guys will rebound," Kampf said. "We came to play vs. Bridgewater, it was really a 1-0 game because they scored the second one on the empty net. But we broke down a little bit in the third period.
   "And Montgomery, they’re very good too," he continued. "They forechecked hard and overall, played really hard and well. They’ve been in the Skyland Conference a long time and did not want a new team to come in and win the Skyland. I give them credit."
   The Raiders weren’t happy losing two in a row for the first time all year, but Kampf believes they’ll be ready for the state playoffs.
   "We’re frustrated right now but we still have a great team with a lot of talent and a lot to play for," Kampf added. "I’m confident we will rebound."