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Young goalie Giuliano coming up strong for Ridley

PETE BANNAN — DIGITAL FIRST MEDIA Ridley's Ben Salmieri, right, tries to control the puck in front of defender Evan Woltanski and Lower Merion goalie Justin Greenspan in the second period Monday.

ASTON — Nick Giuliano won’t turn 15 until June, and yet he may just be Ridley’s most important player. On a night when the Green Raiders were shorthanded, missing three key contributors against a tough Lower Merion team, Giuliano turned aside 41 Aces shots in a 5-2 loss. The fifth goal was an empty-netter. Without its freshman goaltender, the result could’ve been much worse for Ridley. Instead, the Raiders had a chance in the third period.

“He played tremendous,” Raiders captain Anthony Smythe said. “He’s kept us in games.”

Giuliano entered Monday’s Central League game with a .916 save percentage and a 1.96 goals against average according to ICSHL statistics. He lived up to those sterling numbers in the first period, making 15 saves as Ridley escaped with the frame tied at 1-1. Schuyler Dillon opened the scoring for the Aces, beating Giuliano short side high, before Smythe equalized with a solo rush.

“I thought I had a lane, and I chipped it through,” Smythe said. “I got a backhand on goal, and I was just hoping it’d go in.”

With less than 20 seconds to go in the period, Giuliano slid to the edge of his crease to deny Isaac Bredbenner and keep things tied.

“He’s definitely better than most,” Dillon said of Giuliano. “He knows how to position himself.”

“He makes a difference on our team,” Raiders coach Steph Charbonneau said. “It’s a luxury to have him.”

Still, his youth comes out every so often. Giuliano got beat to his near post again early in the second period. Alex Broder found some room from just off the goal line to make it 2-1 Lower Merion. Giuliano could do nothing about the Aces’ third goal, a well-executed two-on-one from Dillon to Bredbenner for a tap-in. But the 16 minutes showcased Giuliano’s importance to Ridley — with the team struggling to score, he needs to be close to perfect for the Raiders to succeed.

“He’s a key guy,” Charbonneau said. “When he’s on, he’s on. And he’s won us a few games.”

Monday wasn’t one of them, although Giuliano kept Ridley close enough to scare Lower Merion. The Raiders came out firing in the third. Ron Higgins scored 44 seconds into the period to pull Ridley within one.

“The main focus was shots,” Smythe said. “We tried to crash and get as many looks as possible.”

The Raiders totaled 14 shots in the first two periods. They had 14 alone in the third.

But then Lower Merion pulled away just as Ridley got back in the game. Dillon took the face off following Higgins’ marker and went in alone on Giuliano. He slipped a backhander by him.

With 5:30 to go and the Raiders lining up for an offensive zone faceoff, Charbonneau gambled, pulling Giuliano for an extra attacker. The netminder had done his part, and the offense needed a spark. It wouldn’t come. Broder scored into the vacated net.

Ridley (6-6-0-1, 6-6-0-0 Central League) had its fair share of looks — Higgins whiffed on a wrist shot early in the period. Ben Salmieri found himself behind the Lower Merion (7-4-1-2, 7-4-0-1) defense midway through the frame but failed to convert. Smythe put a one-timer just wide with a minute to play.

In other words, until the Raiders consistently find the back of the net, they’ll rely on the young man at the other end of the rink. And he’s okay with that.

“I’ve been practicing with them since I was in seventh grade,” Giuliano said. “This far into the season, I feel like I’ve been doing it for a while.”

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