The New Jersey Titans came to the IceWorks Skating Complex three points behind the East Division leading Aston Rebels. A win would move them a point within first place before the Christmas break. In a physical game in which 22 penalties were called, Rebels netminder Jack Leavy turned aside 25 shots to lead his teammates to a 2 – 1 win and extend their lead over the Titans to five points with three games in hand.
It felt like playoff hockey throughout the game. Each team battled hard, fighting for every puck and tensions were high. Since it was teddy bear night, the crowd was very festive and vocal.
At 5:39 of the first period Dom Garcia’s ninth goal of the season made it rain teddy bears. With Drew Blackmun and Garcia battling New Jersey for the puck behind the Titans’ net, the puck slowly moved up the boards to the Titan’s nearside corner. Garcia exited the battle and skated towards the slot. Andrew Bellant entered the scrum and was able to pick up the puck by the Titans’ net and then made an excellent pass out to Garcia who took a one-timer to beat New Jersey’s goalie Brandon Perrone to put the Rebels up 1 – 0. Upon the conclusion of the goal fans threw well over 200 bears onto the ice. Members of the Wilmington Knight Hawks mite’s team were there to pick them up and ultimately turned over to the Aston Fire Department to donate to their charity of choice.
As the second period began, it took only a 1:27 for Evgeny Yakovlev to extend the lead. After New Jersey won the drawl deep inside their far side faceoff circle, a Titans’ defenseman tried to clear the puck but it was intercepted by Gianluca Esteves. Esteves took a shot that was saved by Perrone but Yakovlev, who was all alone out in front, picked up the rebound and put it passed Perrone for his seventh goal on the season to make the score 2 – 0 Rebels.
After being out shot 21 – 14 after two periods, the Titans would apply a full-out assault going into the final period. Time after time Leavy had to made saves to keep the Titans off the board, particularly with his teammates making frequent trips to the penalty box. Then Jensen Zerban was called for hooking at the 14:13 mark of the period. With time winding down on the Rebels penalty, the Titans were trying to set up the play. New Jersey’s Jordan Kaplan set the wheels in motion when he had the puck inside the Rebels zone at the top of the near side faceoff circle. He passed it over to Tyler Antonucci back to the point. Antonucci took a slapshot that was originally saved by Leavy with the rebound being picked up by Rebels defenseman Ryan Solomon. Solomon went to clear the puck but it was intercepted by Todd Goehring who put it past Leavy to make a 2 – 1 game with 4:18 left in the game.
Leavy, who was playing in his first game in a month, had to make several more key saves to thwart the Titans from tying the game. By the time the buzzer had sounded to end the game, Leavy had made 12 saves in the final period with the Rebels only having two shots on goal.
Perrone turned aside 21 of 23 shots while Leavy stopped 25 of 26 shots. Click here for the box score.
With the win, the Rebels enter the break in first place in the East Division with a 24-5-1 record for 49 points, which is most in the North American Hockey League. The Rebels will resume play on Friday, January 6, 2017 when the defending NAHL champion Fairbanks Ice Dogs visit IceWorks.