By Mike Gurnis
MORRIS TWP. — Nearly two weeks after suffering a four-goal loss to Roxbury, Vernon went into Thursday night’s rematch with a plan to keep things simple.
It was able to do that in the first period, as it scored three goals to take a commanding early lead. While Roxbury appeared to stabilize the game in the final two periods as it tried to make a comeback, Vernon was able to hold it off for a big 3-2 win at Mennen Arena.
The win put Vernon squarely into first place in the Halvorsen Division, as its divisional record stands at 4-1 with its only loss coming to this same Roxbury squad.
“It was definitely a kick in the rear end to get beat 5-1 and then come back to play them (again),” said defenseman Jack Bokun, who scored the game’s opening goal 3:58 in. “It put a little fire under us to come out and get this win.”
Bokun added: “We didn’t want to overcomplicate things. We just wanted to keep it simple. Get pucks in deep, and get pucks to the net.”
The first meeting between the squads on Dec. 1 saw Vernon put up 38 shots on goal, but it was unable to solve Roxbury goalie Tyler Marston in the 5-1 loss. But on Thursday it capitalized early, as Bokun and J.T. Doyle scored 2:37 apart in the opening minutes to build a 2-0 lead.
“Getting the first one right off the bat showed us that we can get pucks past this goalie,” Bokun said. “But more importantly we played smarter and kept the game simple and put rebounds in instead of trying to do it all ourselves.”
Then with 1:04 left in the period, sophomore Ayden Steinbach put home his own rebound to extend the lead to three.
That goal ended up being the game-winner, as Roxbury’s Nick Thomas capitalized off a feed from Brendan Hartos in the final minute of the second period, before Chase McGowan scored midway through the third to cut it to 3-2.
Roxbury had its share of chances to tie it up, but behind strong goaltending from Jacob King (12 saves) and some timely defensive plays from players such as Bokun and Cole Brennan, the Vikings were able to hold off Roxbury down the stretch.
Brennan, specifically, managed to break up some cross-ice passes right in front of his own goal which could have been prime scoring opportunities for Roxbury in the third.
“Cole is a solid, solid defenseman,” Vernon coach Ray Zimmerman said. “He’s been that way. He’s a junior now and he’s one of the leaders now as a junior. He helps stabilize us. I’m certainly comfortable with either him or Jack (Bokun) out there against most teams in the league. It’s certainly great to have them there.”
It was an important win for a Vernon squad which has its sights set on making a run at its first-ever Halvorsen Cup title this season. While the complexion of the team is much different than it was a year ago when it was a veteran-heavy team led by big-time scorers such as Patrick Graham, Ray Loughren, and Steven Gay, this year’s team is considerably younger.
There have been some growing pains in the early going, including the loss to Roxbury on Dec. 1, but there have also been some bright spots, such as the team’s 3-3 tie with a state power in St. John Vianney recently. It is still figuring out its identity, but it certainly appears to be a force to be reckoned with as it gets deeper in the season.
“To be honest, we’re still finding our way,” Zimmerman said. “Graham was a huge scorer, Loughren was a huge scorer, and we had a lot of veteran leadership. We have a couple of seniors in Jack (Bokun) and Shane (Brennan). Jack has stood out over the years, but he’s never been the main guy and now all the lights are on him. We have a young team, but they have a lot of talent.
“We’re doing good. As a young team does, we have our ups and downs but we’ll be fine.”
V — Jack Bokun 11:02
V — J.T. Doyle 8:25
V — Ayden Steinbach 1:04
R — Nick Thomas (Brendan Hartos) 0:58
R — Chase McGowan (Kyle Jenkins) 8:47
Shots on goal: Vernon 20, Roxbury 14.
Saves: Jacob King (V) 12, Tyler Marston (R) 17
Team records: Vernon 4-2-1, Roxbury 2-4-1.