Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Titans lose Hovinen but stay perfect

For The Trentonian

TRENTON — Some skill, some grit and a little bit of geometry. The Titans are finding ways to win early in the season, and all that and then some were the keys to their 3-1 win over division-rival Reading on Wednesday night in front of Flyers brass.

Trenton’s horrendous performance in their return to the league is well-documented; their 21 wins were both a franchise-worst and league-low, and many a night they lost games exactly like the one played in front of an announced crowd of 2,236 at Sun National Bank Center.

“We’ve improved since last year, obviously the goaltending and the defense is intact and we’ve got more skill up front,” said Titans head coach Vince Williams.

“Collectively, we’re just a better hockey’s a totally different makeup.  To compare the two, it’s just totally different.”

Anything that could have gone wrong did go wrong last season, but that’s not to say the Titans escaped without incident against the Royals. With the score tied 1-1 through one period, Reading came out strong to start the middle 20 minutes. Defenseman Julien Brouillette, who was sent down for the game by the AHL’s Hershey Bears, fired a high, hard slapshot that struck Titans goaltender Niko Hovinen in the left collarbone area.

Hovinen fought off the puck and made the save, but stayed down. After eventually getting back to his skates while being tended to by team trainer Scott Stanhibel, the prized Finnish goaltending prospect gingerly skated off the ice without moving his left arm and did not return to the bench for the remainder of the game.

“I just know that I don’t think he’s feeling too good, so we’ll have to wait and see,” said Williams, who would not specify where Hovinen was hit, although his left collarbone area was heavily wrapped after the game.

“We might have to try to bring in (another goalie) and re-evaluate him, but I haven’t really talked to Scott. I don’t know if it was the collarbone or the neck, but we play Friday and Saturday and we’ll take some precautions.”

Scott Wedgewood, who had just collected his first pro win in Reading on Saturday, came into the game in relief of Hovinen and was stellar. The only blemish against him was determined not to have counted by referee Ryan Murphy — Royals forward David Marshall was ruled to have pushed the puck and Wedgewood past the goal line after the goaltender had already covered the puck.

Midway through the game it was becoming increasingly clear that the next goal could be the game-winner, as both teams had tightened up defensively.  At the 8:12 mark of the second stanza, with 
Reading having seemingly plugged the neutral zone, Titans forward Andy Bohmbach threaded a beautiful pass through traffic onto the stick of Marcel Noebels, who had gotten behind the defense, just staying onsides in the process.

“The puck was rolling, and I saw (Noebels) at the last second and just kind of fired it hoping that it got through, and it did,” Bohmbach said.

“He made a nice move and put it away. There was one guy right next to him, but I don’t think he saw me pass it, so he didn’t know where the puck was. I knew it was going to be close, but it found a way through.”

Noebels made several slick dekes and eventually went to his backhand to finish the task, lifting the puck over the outstretched left pad of Reading goalie Philipp Grubauer, a former teammate of Noebels on the Under-20 German National Team.

Trenton clung to their one-goal lead throughout the majority of the duration of the game, but saw that advantage flash before their eyes while on the power play in the third. With 9:43 to go in regulation, 
Royals defenseman T.J. Syner flipped a perfect pass to forward Kirk MacDonald, who had inexplicably been left wide open in front of the net. Wedgewood lunged with his right pad and made the save that ultimately won the game.

“I wasn’t expecting (to come in), but all goalies get prepared to come in if (an injury) happens,” Wedgewood said.

“For the most part, I got the nerves out early and just kept playing.”

Even the empty-netter that Trenton scored at the end of the game was entertaining, making it all the more disappointing that the game was played in front of a sea of empty green seats. Titans captain Ray 
DiLauro fired the puck off the glass from his own end, approximately 160 feet away from the goal, in an apparent attempt at an icing. Instead, the puck found its way in the back of Reading’s net to put Trenton on top for good thanks to lessons learned in elementary school, said the captain. 

“At that point, you’re winning the game and it’s a faceoff in your own end and you just want to get it out of there,” DiLauro said.  

“The safest play is off the glass. I guess I took a geometry class or two in my time.”


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