Photos and Story by Mike Gurnis
STOCKHOLM — Through two Halvorsen Division games, Roxbury has had no problem finding the back of the net.
After a dominant 7-1 win over Sparta-Jefferson in its season-opener- keyed by a hat-trick from Nick Hefferle- Roxbury’s offense came up big yet again on Saturday, as Hefferle put away three more goals to lift his team to a 6-4 win over Vernon at Skylands Ice World.
“After a few scrimmages, we weren’t having much offense,” Hefferle said. “So we got together with our coach and we switched up the lines and found some chemistry between the players on the lines. We’ve just been having success ever since, so we’re sticking with that.”
The win not only improved Roxbury to a perfect 2-0 in the young season, but it also marked a major milestone for coach Jon Benbow. Benbow, in his 15th season leading the Gaels, picked up his 188th career win, which broke the program’s all-time win record, previously held by Bob Garcia.
“I think it really speaks to what the program has become,” Benbow said. “The ironic thing is Bob Garcia, the coach whose record I broke, was my first hockey coach ever. He’s the one that kept me on the ice. I think it just speaks to the fact that we continued what he started here. Really, the credit goes to the guys on the ice and not to me, but it’s a nice milestone. It’s nice to get it through with, and to keep moving on now.”
“It’s also meaningful to us,” Hefferle said of his coach’s record. “For me, it’s four years, and it’s been great playing under him. He’s been a great coach for all four years. I couldn’t ask for a better coach in high school hockey, and I just love playing for him.”
It was an inauspicious start for Roxbury on Saturday, when Vernon’s T.J. Santaita scored on a shorthanded breakaway to give his team the early lead. Roxbury, however, got that goal back shortly afterward, as Hefferle capitalized on the power play just 1:10 later to tie it up.
Ethan Barooah gave Roxbury the lead with 4:55 left, before Jake Kooyenga and Hefferle each found the back of the net in the final 33 seconds to give Roxbury a commanding 4-1 advantage.
Chase McGowan’s goal late in the second extended Roxbury’s lead to four. The teams traded goals in the third as Aiden Steinbach got on the board for Vernon, before Hefferle finished off the hat trick.
But a seemingly comfortable four-goal lead was quickly cut to two in a span of 34 seconds, as Steinbach and Santaita each scored, making it 6-4 with 3:09 left.
Vernon had some quality opportunities to cut the deficit to one- including a shot which rang off the crossbar- but ultimately, Roxbury held on in the final minutes to secure the win.
“We just need to stay focused as a team,” Hefferle said. “That’s what happened- we started getting off track, we started laughing on the bench thinking we had it in the bag- but then, after we realized what was happening, we got back together and we managed to come out with a win.”
And while a long season still lies ahead, two divisional wins in the first week- including one against the team that finished first in the division a year ago- puts Roxbury squarely in the mix in what figures to be a highly competitive Halvorsen Division race.
It’s a welcome feeling for Roxbury, after it followed up back-to-back Halvorsen Cups in 2015-16 and 2016-17 with back-to-back five-win seasons.
“We came into the season knowing that the Halvorsen was up for grabs,” Benbow said. “I don’t know if there’s any one team that’s better than anybody else. But we finally have some depth and some experience. We were young last year and even younger the year before when we were in the Mennen. So it’s nice to get two divisional wins out of the way, but we also know it’s a long road. There’s a lot of games left.”
V — T.J. Santaita 7:43 SHG
R — Nick Hefferle (Ethan Barooah) 6:33 PPG
R — Ethan Barooah (Mike Gallagher) 4:55
R — Jake Kooyenga (Gavin Woudenberg, Nick Thomas) 0:33
R — Nick Hefferle 0:08
R — Chase McGowan (Kevin Keane) 3:27
V- Aiden Steinbach (T.J. Santaita, Lucas Brennan) 14:03
R — Nick Hefferle (Kevin Keane) 10:21
V- Aiden Steinbach (Dylan Shea) 3:43
V — T.J. Santaita (Lucas Brennan, Dylan Shea) 3:09
Shots on goal: Roxbury 35, Vernon 25
Saves: Ozzie Deluca (Vernon) 29, Ryan Callahan (Roxbury) 21