By Mike Gurnis
MORRIS TWP. — Wednesday night’s season opener marked the beginning of a new era for Morris Knolls, as it played its first game since beginning a co-op with cross-town rival Morris Hills.
So it was only fitting that Joe Rabeno- the lone varsity starter on the roster from Morris Hills- came through with a performance to remember. The senior came through with two power play goals in his Knolls debut to help lead his team to a big 5-3 win over Chatham at Mennen Arena in the season opener.
“Awesome. There’s no other words I can put it into, it was so much fun,” Rabeno said of his Knolls debut. “With the crowd (behind us), I’m speechless right now. I have no words for it. I was in the right spot at the right time. I’m lucky enough to be big enough to be right in front of the net- coach trusted me and put me right in front- and I got rewarded.”
Rabeno led the way offensively for Morris Knolls, but senior Andrew Rush came up with a big game in goal to help shut the door. Although Knolls was out-shot 54-24 in the game- including 25-4 in the third period- Rush stood tall and turned aside 51 shots.
“My defensemen cleared out the front of the net for me pretty well,” Rush said. “So I was able to see the shot from the points and the shots from the top of the circle. I was able to see just about every shot that came my way. For me, it was just about trusting my abilities to play my game and trusting my teammates to be in the right spots to make the plays that I know they need to make for us to win. They did exactly that.”
Rush and the Morris Knolls defense were certainly tested in the opening minutes. Chatham controlled possession early, and struck first on Michael Sciaretta’s goal 2:56 into the first period.
But after a tough first half of the first period, Morris Knolls began to find its game. And on its first power play opportunity late in the first period, it capitalized as Rabeno knocked home a rebound in front after taking a pass from Jason Kwestal to tie the game up.
The squad’s power play unit would continue to make a big difference in the game in the second period. Sean Murray scored off a feed from Kwestal and Jacob Walsh 7:03 into the second period to give Morris Knolls its first lead. Then, Rabeno extended the lead with another power play goal with 1:16 to go in the period on a tip-in from a pass by Murray.
In total, Morris Knolls went 3-for-4 on the power play in the game, which was even more impressive given the fact that it had just one scrimmage along with limited practice time prior to Wednesday’s opener.
“Just trusting in each other, that’s it,” Rabeno said of the team’s success on the power play. “I’m new to playing with these guys, I’ve played with them for about three weeks now in practice, but it’s still a little different than a game. I’m glad they’ve got the trust in me to get it to me in front.”
Knolls carried a 4-1 lead into the third period after Jason Miesegaes scored with 37 seconds to go in the second period. Chatham started to make things interesting, as Evan Schmidt scored a power play goal nearly five minutes in to cut its deficit to two.
Jacob Walsh restored the three-goal advantage with 8:51 left for Morris Knolls, but Chatham cut it down to two once again as Declan Curry scored with 8:19 to go.
From then on, Rush was able to shut the door for the rest of the way despite facing a lot of work to help his team seal a key Mennen Division win.
“I think he was seeing the puck really well,” Morris Knolls coach Tim Kepler said of Rush. “He’s a gamer. He’s one of probably the best teammates that I’ve been able to coach. That’s very hard to bring to a team, and it’s becoming contagious, which is what’s really great about him.”
C — Michael Sciaretta (Jack DeLetto) 12:04
MK — Joe Rabeno (Jason Kwestal) 2:07 PPG
MK — Sean Murray (Jason Kwestal, Jacob Walsh) 7:57 PPG
MK — Joe Rabeno (Sean Murray) 1:16 PPG
MK — Jason Miesegaes (Jake DiLoreto) 0:37
C — Evan Schmidt (Brian Nall) 10:19 PPG
MK — Jacob Walsh (Kieran Regen) 8:51
C — Declan Curry 8:19
Saves: Zachary Pendergrast (C) 19, Andrew Rush (MK) 51
Shots: Chatham 54, Morris Knolls 24
Team records: Morris Knolls 1-0, Chatham 1-1