ASTON >> Ridley’s Michael Giampapa heard Nick Catona shout. In any other setting, this would be a rare occurrence. Catona, and Giampapa for that matter, speaks only when they have to. And when they do, it’s only slightly audible. But during a game…
“Even though we’re quiet outside of hockey, in the rink it’s totally different,” Giampapa said. “He lets me know when he wants the puck. When he lets me know, I give it to him. And he usually finishes for us.”
On this occasion, with a one-goal lead over Springfield, Giampapa was tripped. As he lay prone on the ice, he saw Catona out of the corner of his eye. And he heard him. Giampapa chopped a pass in his linemate’s direction and Catona buried the breakaway.
The two would connect again late in the third period to give the Green Raiders an impressive 4-2 win over the Cougars, avenging their lone loss of the season in the process.
The duo has been at the forefront of Ridley’s success in 2015-16. Giampapa and Catona have combined for 44 goals and 103 points in 15 games.
“We played in middle school when I was in fifth grade and he was in seventh,” Giampapa said. “Ever since then we’ve been playing together. We’ve just clicked. It’s turned out to be a great thing.”
If Catona’s first goal demoralized the Cougars, his second defeated them. Springfield, down 3-1, went on the power play with 1:59 left in the game. Desperately needing a goal, the visitors instead misplayed a puck at the Raiders’ blue line. Giampapa and Catona raced the other way. The former crossed at the top of the circles, the latter picked up the puck behind him and beat Calin Losacco glove side.
The play cemented another superb offensive outing for Giampapa. He tallied three assists, including one on Steve Rubillo’s opener in the first period. The output comes in contrast to the role he played as a freshman a season ago.
He was charged with shadowing Springfield’s star scorer Tyler Riddle in the 2015 Central League playoffs. Now it’s Giampapa who demands extra attention.
“From being defensive, it was just a change. I was so used to playing in the defensive zone,” he said. “I know since I have Catona with me I have (offensive help).”
The constant threat, not to mention three very good forward lines, allowed Ridley to take the attack to Springfield. The Green Raiders outshot the Cougars 36-27, while getting contributions from throughout the lineup.
“(Depth) is real important, especially on a team like this with three solid lines and against a great team like Springfield,” said Colin McCann, who scored a beauty in the second off a feed from Brett Dunning. “Any time we can get every line scoring that helps.”
They also learned an important lesson from that earlier loss.
“We went from not trying to worry about Riddle too much to playing our game,” McCann said. “We kind of just got away from playing hockey and focused too much on Tyler (last game).”
And Riddle continued to struggle. He’s scored 42 goals in 11 games against every other opponent. In two games against the Raiders, he has one goal, a power play tally that came with 56 seconds left Tuesday.
“Well, I think we have to do it as a team,” said Cougars coach Phil Eastman of Riddle’s troubles. “We can’t rely on one person. He can’t do it by himself. We have to be able to get the puck deep and move the puck in the offensive zone.”
Riddle assisted on Kevin Brown’s power play goal that brought Springfield (13-2-0, 12-1-0 Central League) to within two in the third period. But by the 2015 Daily Times Player of the Year’s standards, it was a ho-hum two-point night.
Brendahn Brawley’s first-period breakaway save was Riddle’s best chance to change the game. The netminder stood tall to keep things scoreless. Then, the Raiders (13-1-1, 11-1-0) took over from there.
Rubillo scored before the Giampapa-Catona show started.
Ridley was the better team Tuesday. The Cougars were better earlier this month. They’ll meet again in February when the playoffs start.
“I think it’ll be great no matter what,” McCann said. “They always give us a great game, we give them a great game.”