By Mike Gurnis
MORRIS TWP. — Just when A.J. Schauder and his Park Regional team were starting to round into form last season, its hopes of a run at the Haas Cup were brought to an abrupt halt.
The goaltender, now a senior, recorded back-to-back shutout wins over West Morris and Gill St. Bernard’s, and it appeared Park Regional was going to be a very tough out in the postseason.
But the Monday after that win over Gill St. Bernard’s, it got the call that teams had feared all year- that its season was going to be cut short due to COVID-19 concerns.
As heartbreaking of a way as that was for the 2020-21 season to end, the only option was for the players who remained to find a way to pick up where it left off.
Thanks to a pair of first period goals and a 29-save shutout from Schauder, Park Regional picked up an important opening day Haas Division win, as it took down West Morris 3-0 at Mennen Arena.
“It’s just good to come up here as a leader and rally everybody up and get everybody to have fun out here,” Schauder said. “Last season was not great for it to end early, but it is what it is, and we’ll try to make up for it this year.”
Schauder now boasts a shutout streak which spans three games, dating back to his back-to-back shutouts at the end of last season. He was able to continue that stretch despite facing a West Morris team which despite going 0-14-1 last season, came out strong in this game and out-shot Park Regional 29-26, including a 10-8 advantage in the final period.
“We’re just keeping shots to the outside, clearing rebounds, and getting screens out of the way,” Schauder said. “Anything that I can see, I can stop, and that’s what we did.”
One of his best saves of the night came midway through the second period, when West Morris’ Scott Van Slooten made a 2-on-1 pass to Paul Bietka who seemed to have a wide-open net on the doorstep. But Schauder got over just in time to make the save and preserved the shutout.
“You can’t make up half of the saves that kid makes. It’s wild,” said defenseman Eddie Karpinski. “He plays for my club team too, and he kept us in games. Every single time he’s always got your back. Especially on defense, it’s great to have him back there. He makes some incredible saves and he always bails you out when you need him to.”
Park Regional also did what every team wants to do in its first game- get the first game jitters out and get on the board early. Junior Matthew Lasota buried the first goal of his varsity career halfway through the first period off a rebound after a pair of nice saves by West Morris goalie Phil Togno.
It doubled the lead with 29 seconds left in the first, when Jason Cirillo deflected Matt Carter’s point shot, giving Park the two-goal lead despite being out-shot 13-8.
“It gave us a boost and it got us playing confident,” Karpinski said. “I think when we’re playing confident, we’re doing good things. Getting those first two goals, it’s like getting it off our shoulder. It got us confident and when we have confidence, we’re playing well.”
With that lead, Schauder, Karpinski and the Park Regional defense did the rest, as it held West Morris off the board for the rest of the way to earn an important two points on opening night. Michael Monahan sealed the win with an empty net goal in the final minute.
It meant even more for Park Regional to get the win in front of a strong Mennen Arena crowd, which featured a student section made up of Whippany Park and Hanover Park students. That’s one factor that was missing from the 2020-21 season with only parents allowed to attend, and the group fed off the energy of the crowd in this one.
“It meant a lot to all of the seniors. Especially seeing fans back in this rink, there was a lot of energy out there,” Karpinski said. “Our friends were in the stands and it was a lot of fun. Even for the young guys, the guys who missed the fans last year like the sophomores, being back out here and seeing the fans…it’s something special about high school hockey and they finally got to experience it.”
First star: A.J. Schauder, Park Regional- 29-save shutout
Second star: Jason Cirillo, Park Regional- 1 goal, 1 assist
Third star: Phil Togno, West Morris- 23 saves.
PARK — Matthew Lasota (Stanley Gelman, Joe Spagnoletti) 7:32
PARK — Jason Cirillo (Matt Carter) 0:29
PARK– Michael Monahan (Eddie Karpinski, Jason Cirillo) 0:27 ENG
Shots on goal: West Morris 29, Park Regional 26
Saves: Phil Togno (WMC) 23, A.J. Schauder (Park) 29
Team records: Park Regional 1-0, West Morris 0-1.
E-mail Mike Gurnis at email@example.com