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New Jersey survives in OT to force deciding game in Robertson Cup series with New Mexico

Overtime was a thriller for both teams as the New Jersey Titans got a stellar night in goal to stave off elimination, beating the New Mexico Ice Wolves to tie their NAHL semifinal series at 1-1.

bannister.jpeg
New Jersey Titans left winger Tommy Bannister had second- and third-period goals in his team's Robertson Cup semifinal playoff games versus the New Mexico Ice Wolves on Saturday, May 21, 2022 at Fogarty Arena in Blaine, Minn.
Jeff Lawler / Courtesy NAHL

BLAINE, Minn. -- Hungary is not known as a hockey power on the international stage, but a pair of Hungarians put on a show in Saturday night’s Robertson Cup semifinal game.

The New Jersey Titans staved off elimination and forced a decisive game three when Levente Keresztes, from Budapest, banked a puck off the pad of New Mexico Ice Wolves goalie Beni Halasz, who is also from Budapest, in overtime.

The Titans’ 3-2 victory means that Sunday’s winner will advance to face the Anchorage Wolverines for the NAHL title.

Twice the Titans took the lead on goals by Tommy Bannister, and twice the Ice Wolves rallied, putting on wave after wave of pressure and repeatedly testing Titans goalie Andrew Takacs in the third period and overtime. But the Colgate-bound Titans puck-stopper held strong, finishing with 36 saves in the win.

“That’s as incredible a game as I’ve seen in my six years here,” said Titans coach Craig Doremus. “Credit to both clubs. Up and down, scoring chances, great saves, competitive hard play on both sides of it. Two really good teams battling for every inch of ice.”

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Doremus noted that throughout the Titans’ playoff run, they have lost the opener in every series, so this is following the script. The Ice Wolves, who had myriad chances to end the game early in overtime, got a power play goal and 36 saves from Halasz, but were frustrated by a lack of scoring on three more man-advantage chances.

New Jersey vs New Mexico
New Mexico Ice Wolves right winger Nicolas Haviar (20) battled for position in front of the New Jersey net with Titans defenseman Owen Luik in the first period of their Robertson Cup semifinal game on Saturday, May 21, 2022 at Fogarty Arena in Blaine, Minn.
Jeff Lawler / Courtesy NAHL

“We’ve got to be more assertive,” New Mexico coach Phil Fox said. “We’re not winning races if we have to dump and chase or anything like that. If we are going to play that style we have to out-number them, get possession. Our top unit was a little broken and it was hard for them to get that chemistry.”

For the second straight night it was a de facto home game for the Ice Wolves, with a Minnesotan-laden roster and they fed off the crowd’s energy to rally, twice, after New Jersey took 1-0 and 2-1 leads. Bannister scored with the Titans on the power play in the second period to give New Jersey its first lead of the weekend. In the third he picked up a loose puck in the neutral zone and beat Halasz with a high shot for his second of the game.

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Both teams seemed to benefit from the break between the third period and overtime, and the fresh sheet of ice that allowed them to combine for 24 shots in 16 minutes of the extra session.

“Maybe some clean ice and also a deep breath,” Doremus said. “They were pushing really hard in the third period to put us away and I thought we did a good job. It goes back and forth both ways but each team had a lot of jump in the overtime which is a credit to both teams and how deep they are.”

Game 3 of the New Jersey-New Mexico series is at 6 p.m. CT at the Ice House in Blaine on Sunday evening.

New Jersey 3, New Mexico 2, OT

New Mexico 0-1-1-0—2

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New Jersey 0-1-1-1—3

First period — No scoring. Penalties — Reece Brednich, NJ (high sticking), 9:43.

Second period — 1. NJ, Tommy Bannister 2 (Anthony Calafiore, Chris Carroll), 4:22, (pp). 2. NM, Sully Scholle 7 (Evan Carroll, Gustav Blom), 13:44, (pp). Penalties — Blayde Pogreba, NM (slashing), 2:18; Jeff Hutchinson, NM (tripping), 2:59; Owen Luik, NJ (interference), 4:44; Blake Farrell, NJ (hooking), 11:52; David Posma, NJ (checking from behind), 14:45.

Third period — 3. NJ, Bannister 3 (unassisted), 2:28. 4. NM, Grant Ellings 1 (Brandon Holt), 10:35. Penalties — None.

Overtime — 5. NJ, Levente Keresztes 3 (Jack Karlsson), 16:10. Penalties — None.

Shots on goal — NM 10-8-9-11—38; NJ 10-9-7-13—39. Goalies — Beni Halasz, NM (39 shots-36 saves); Andrew Takacs, NJ (38-36). Power plays — NM 1-of-4, NJ 1-of-2. Referees — Ryan Siegel, Chazz Knoche. Linesmen — Tyler Willie, Reilly Hickey. Att. — 1,233.

Jess Myers covers college hockey, as well as outdoors, general sports and travel, for The Rink Live and the Forum Communications family of publications. He came to FCC in 2018 after three decades of covering sports as a freelancer for a variety of publications, while working full time in politics and media relations. A native of Warroad, Minn. (the real Hockeytown USA), Myers has a degree in journalism/communications from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He lives in the Twin Cities. Contact Jess via email at jrmyers@forumcomm.com, or find him on Twitter via @JessRMyers. English speaker.
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