The Aston Rebels used a balanced scoring attack to earn a 5 – 2 win over the visiting New Jersey Titans to take a one game to none lead in this best-of-five divisional final series.
The Rebels completely dominated the first period, in terms of shots on goal (11 – 2) and, most importantly, on the score board.
The East Division champions got on the board early with Adam Peck scoring his first goal of the playoffs just two minutes into the game. All-NAHL First Team defenseman Brennan Kapcheck intercepted a Titans’ outlet pass along the far side boards and carried the puck into the New Jersey zone. As Kapcheck brought the puck deep in the zone he threw it towards the net where it was tipped out in front by Ryan Patrick. Kapcheck continued to circle behind the Titans net and picked up the loose puck. As he skated back to the top of the near side point he took a shot that was saved by New Jersey’s goalie Ryan Ferland but Peck picked up the rebound and put it behind Ferland to give the Rebels a 1 – 0 lead.
The Rebels then would take a 2 – 0 at the 6:04 mark of the opening period. Gianluca Esteves brought the puck out behind his own net and started to skate up towards center ice. Esteves head manned the puck to Kolby Vegara who carried the puck into the Titans zone on a three on two. As Vegara entered the offensive zone he passed the puck to his left to Evgeny Yakovlev at the top of the near side faceoff circle. The Belgorod, Russian native took a snap shot that was saved by Ferland but Aaron Maguyon was left all alone in the slot and tapped in the rebound past Ferland for his first goal of the playoffs.
The Rebels would make it 3 – 0 just thirteen seconds into the second period. Esteves would win the draw at the Titans far side faceoff circle. The puck was picked up by Maguyon at the boards and he made a drop back to Esteves. The Winnipeg, Manitoba native circled behind the Titans net and passed it out front to Yakovlev who tipped it passed Ferland to give the Rebels a three-goal lead.
But you can never underestimate the Titans. They are a very fast and well coached team and don’t give up. And they would get back into the game by playing gritty Titan hockey.
New Jersey’s Ryan Wheeler and the Rebels Andrew Bellant were called for coincidental penalties but the Titans would get the extra attacker when Drew Blackmun was assessed a slashing penalty with almost nine minutes left in the second period to put New Jersey on the power play. With time winding down with the man advantage, Danny Eruzione had the puck in the Rebels far side corner. He passed it back to the point to Hunter Alden who passed it over to his left to Oskar Stromberg. Stromberg took a one-timer that was redirected out front by Gordie Helmuth past Mareks Mitens to make it a 3 – 1 game with 7:23 left in the middle stanza. It was only the Titans six shot on goal in the game.
New Jersey would cut the deficit to one with 2:31 left in the period. After the puck was taken off of Esteves’ stick, it went to Stromberg at the top of his far side faceoff circle. The Rebels got caught on a bad line change and Stromberg passed it up to Dylan Healey who entered the Aston zone on a two on one with Jordan Kaplan. As Healey got to the faceoff circle he passed the puck to Kaplan on his left. Kaplan took a shot that went through Mitens five hole to make it a 3 – 2.
The third period was very fast paced and up and down play. With 2:37 left in the game Esteves would give the Rebels a 4 – 2 lead. With New Jersey’s Zach Parrott looking to breakout of his own zone he tried to passed it one of his teammates but it was intercepted by Bellant at the blueline. Bellant immediately took a shot that was saved by Ferland but the deep rebound came right out to the trailing Esteves who beat Ferland to give the Rebels a two-goal lead.
Bellant would score an empty net goal with four second remaining to give the Rebels a 5 – 2 win.
Mitens would turn aside 16 of 18 shots while Ferland stopped 22 of 26 shots. Click here for the box score.
Game two of this best-of-five series is tonight at 7:00pm at IceWorks.