PHOTOS by Mike Gurnis
By Mike Gurnis
MORRIS TWP. — Everything was coming up Chatham early on in the third period of Saturday’s Mennen Division opener between Madison and Chatham.
Chatham scored three times in the final 3:57 of the second to build a two-goal lead, and the Cougars appeared destined for an opening night win after it didn’t allow a single Madison shot in the opening seven minutes of the third.
But suddenly, the switch flipped for Madison.
The Dodgers began to push the issue more offensively, and it got rewarded as Aidan Niceberg scored twice in a span of 1:27 in the final minutes to help Madison earn a 3-3 tie with Chatham at Mennen Arena.
“I think we kind of reset and realized that we had to get things going and start generating some offense,” Niceberg said. “We were fortunate enough to put in the first goal, and we got really excited and I think we ran off that momentum the rest of the game.”
Madison held a one-goal lead in the second period, before the floodgates opened for Chatham late. William White, Tommy Sennett, and Spencer Spagnuolo each struck for the Cougars, with Spagnuolo’s goal beating the buzzer.
And even when Madison started to press late, Chatham goalie Jennifer Olnowich appeared to be equal to the task, as she made several key saves to preserve the lead.
But with 2:39 left, Cormac McNamara’s shot ended up right on the goal line, and Niceberg was able to poke it past the line to cut it to 3-2.
Then, with the goalie pulled, Matty Gero made a pass to Niceberg, who lifted a backhander past Olnowich to tie the game up with 1:12 to go.
“A little breakdown in our zone,” Chatham coach Brendon Herr said. “We tried to complicate things a bit by hanging onto the puck too much. Look, I thought our goaltender played phenomenal tonight and made some key saves at key times. On that tying goal, the guy was standing there in front all alone. So we’ll look at some video here and try to clean up our defensive zone a little bit.”
Both teams went into the season with several new faces after both lost key players to graduation from a year ago, with Chatham needing to replace 14 seniors from a state finalist squad.
“It’s tough, you only have a couple of practices and a couple of scrimmages before the season starts,” Herr said. “It’s a learning curve. I think we’ve progressed in practice. I thought we played a good game, just a couple of minor breakdowns here and there. But you try to get everyone on the same page as quick as you can.”
And for Madison, it hopes that the late momentum it built in this game will carry over into next week, when it faces Sparta-Jefferson next Saturday.
“I think this is huge,” Niceberg said. “We have a lot of momentum going into our game next Saturday. It shows that we’re here and ready to play. It’s a tie, but it’s a win for us.”
M — Cormac McNamara (Jacoby Erickson, Liam Fry) 5:51
C — William White (Tim Triano) 3:57
C — Tommy Sennett (Ryan Mancino) 1:28
C — Spencer Spagnuolo (Declan Curry, Ryan Sordillo) 0:00.5
M — Aidan Niceberg (Cormac McNamara) 2:42
M — Aidan Niceberg (Matty Gero, Jacoby Erickson) 1:12
Shots on goal: Chatham 34, Madison 25
Saves: Keaton Tom (Madison) 31, Jennifer Olnowich (Chatham) 22