It was Fan Appreciation Night, and it was a carnival like atmosphere at IceWorks. You could feel the excitement in the air and everyone knew what a Rebels win would mean. Dean Balsamo and company delivered. The team scored three goals in the third period to break a 3 to 3 tie against the New Jersey Titans to propel them to their first ever regular season East Division championship. The Rebels now will play the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights in the first round of the playoffs beginning April 15.
Similar to all the other games between the two evenly matched teams, the game was back and forth. Then with 8:37 left in the first, Frank Spellman head man the puck to Andrew Bellant. Bellant and Balsamo entered the Titans zone on a 2 on 1. Balsamo used Bellant as a decoy and took a short side shot that beat New Jersey’s goalie Jack Berry to give the Rebels a 1 – 0 lead.
With the Rebels ahead going into the second, you knew New Jersey wanted to be a party pooper. And they were. Andrew Durham passed the puck to William Riedell in the high slot. Riedell took a shot that was redirected by Brad Becker past Rebels goalie Darion Hanson to put the visitors on the board at 12:58 left in the second. Less than three minutes later, it was a similar situation. Durham found Keegan Miller down low. Miller passed it to Becker who was wide open in the slot and beat Hanson giving the Titans a 2 – 1 lead.
The Rebels tied it with 5:27 left in the second on Balsamo’s second goal on the evening with assists from Spellman and Bellant. Two minutes later Eric Carreras and Drew Blackmun set up Evgeny Yakovlev for his thirteenth goal on the year. With the second period coming to a close, Anthony Cusanelli scored with thirty eight seconds left to tie the game at three.
The third period began with some tension in the air with fans hoping this could be the night the team clinches the title. With 1:55 into the second, the tension was released when Bellant and Colton McMenamin set up Balsamo for his third goal of the evening and the eventual game winner. It was Balsamo’s 25th goal of the year and his 50th point on the season. He leads the team in goals.
Clinging onto a one goal lead with six minutes left in the game, Ryan Cusin entered the Titans zone and passed it to Michael Merulla. Charging hard behind the play was defenseman Kristofers Bindulis. Merulla took a shot that blocked by Berry but Bindulis picked up the rebound to put it passed Berry to give the Rebels a 5 – 3 lead. After the Rebels called time out, New Jersey pulled Berry for the extra attacker in hopes of erasing the two goal lead. Spellman had other plans as he took a pass from Balsamo and hit the open net to give the Rebels their sixth goal. It was Spellman’s 16th goal on the season. Balsamo had a four point game while Bellant had three points and Spellman had two.
The Titans Berry had 27 saves on 32 shots while Hanson had 14 saves on 17 shots. Click here for the box score. The two teams are at it again tonight at Middletown’s Ice World to close out the regular season.