POTTSTOWN >> Hill School coach Chris Bala is no stranger to the Hill-Lawrenceville School rivalry.
As a former Hill hockey player himself, Bala knew his team couldn’t rely on strategy alone in what was sure to be an emotional contest.
“These games,” said Bala, “aren’t won by Xs and Os. It’s a matter of little plays turning into big plays.”
Of course, when you can keep the puck out of your own net, strategy becomes a luxury.
Dalton Jerzak made 22 saves leading a complete team defensive effort as the Blues subdued Lawrenceville, 3-0, improving to 8-5-2 on the season and completing a season sweep of their arch rivals on Saturday afternoon. The Blues also took down Lawrenceville 2-1 last month.
Jerzak, a senior originally from Rochester, NY, is in his first year at the Hill School. While he may be new to the Hill-Lawrenceville rivalry, the significance of the victory wasn’t lost on him.
“We’ve got a group of guys who put up a strong performance on the road against them last month,” he said, “and now we can say we owned the season rivalry this year.”
Offensively, Hill chipped away with 30 shots, solving Lawrenceville’s Karl Szabo once in each period.
Scoring chances were at a premium in the early going, until Hill capitalized on a power play chance late in the first period. Junior CJ Duvall took a short feed from captain David Hill, beating Szabo glove side to open the scoring at 14:23. Just over a minute later, Lawrenceville’s best opportunity of the period struck the goalpost on a point blast from David Parker.
The ice seemed tilted in the Blues’ favor early in the second period, but Szabo was equal to the task each time. Lawrenceville, however, remained unable to solve Jerzak, who made his first tough save of the game diving cross-crease to rob Trey Croddick.
Hill would get an insurance tally with two minutes left in the period, with the Blues killing a penalty. Junior Alex Kiviniemi turned and fired from center ice in hopes of getting his team a line change. But the blistering shot took a strange bounce and handcuffed Szabo, doubling the Blues’ lead.
Early in the third period, junior Ryan Long carried the puck into the Lawrenceville zone on a 3-on-1. Long took advantage of the defenseman’s hesitation, firing a wrister by Szabo to close out the scoring.
The only mystery remaining was whether Jerzak and the Blues could complete the shutout. A last-ditch Lawrenceville rally — half of their 22 shots came in the third period — was thwarted when Jerzak turned in the play of the game, robbing Croddick a second time on a glove save during a late power play.
“It was an odd-man rush,” Jerzak recalled, “and my responsibility is the shooter. So when they slide the puck across like that, it was just a natural reaction to turn my body. I think I was in pretty good position, and fortunately the puck hit me.”
For the two squads, Saturday’s game was a continuation of the year-long celebration of the Hill-Lawrenceville rivalry. The schools first competed in interscholastic athletics in 1887 — one of America’s oldest athletic rivalries at any level.
This past November, the entire Hill student body traveled to New Jersey to commemorate the 130th anniversary of the rivalry. On that day, Lawrenceville got the better of Hill, besting the Blues in seven of the day’s nine contests across various sports.
Therefore, Saturday’s victory was extra sweet for Hill, as they not only completed a season sweep of their arch rivals, but exacted a measure of revenge for their classmates.
Over their four years at Hill, the Class of 2018 now sports a 9-2 record against Lawrenceville in ice hockey.
“Anytime a student or a team at Hill competes against Lawrenceville, they become part of something bigger than themselves,” said Bala. “The rivalry goes back well over a hundred years, so each player only gets the chance to write a few chapters.”
For Coach Bala and his squad, the focus now turns to capturing a third consecutive Mid-Atlantic Hockey League title. The eight-team league will send four teams to a single-elimination postseason tournament to determine its champion.
“Winning these games in the area is critical,” Bala confirmed. “Kids are looking for strong academics and a high level of hockey. Results against local teams, plus some top programs in New England, give our athletes a chance to measure themselves against some of the best.
“But for the present, the focus is on the Mid-Atlantic Hockey League.”
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