BY JOHN THEALL Sports writer
CRASHING THE NET — RFA sophomore forward Justin Hussey, middle, goes hard to the net to fire a shot on Watertown Immaculate Heart Central goalie Grant Chamberlain while defenders Jason Reape, 12, and Lindsey Pound trail the play during Tuesday’s Section III Division I East clash at Kennedy Arena. Rome scored five power-play goals during a 7-1 triumph. (Sentinel photo by Stefan Matwijec)
Taking the ice for the first time since they were handed their first hockey loss of the season by Potsdam during their holiday tournament, the Rome Free Academy Black Knights got back down to business on Tuesday night at Kennedy Arena.
Garrett Reilley had a pair of goals, sophomore defenseman Joey Rutkowski scored a go-ahead goal, while fellow sophomore defenseman Tyler Williams returned to the team to record three of his four assists in the first period and the Romans’ pesky defense overruled and helped the team steamroll to a commanding 7-1 victory over Watertown Immaculate Heart Central during a Section III Division I East matchup.
The offensive outpouring for RFA saw the Black Knights score five power-play goals, tally 37 shots on net and have 11 players score at least one point as they bounced back from their first defeat of the season in a 2-1 setback against Potsdam on Jan. 7.
Senior defenseman Ryan Reilley tallied a goal and two assists, while Keegan Richie, Mike Pekarski, and freshman Peter Mastracco, who scored his first-ever varsity point in the game, all scored a goal, and Eric Joyce, Mike Seifert, Nick Nardslico, and Tyler Nicolaus each had an assist on the night for the Romans, who sit atop the Division I East standings with 10 points and a perfect 5-0 league record. The Black Knights also moved to 11-1 overall.
Rome was scheduled to take on Ithaca last Friday but the game was postponed due to weather conditions.
The lengthy layover did more good than harm for the Black Knights longtime head coach Greg Cuthbertson said after the game.
He said that the team was able to regroup, get healthy, and mentally prepare for their final stretch of the regular season.
"At certain points during the year you hit these little walls and that might have been ours against Potsdam, so we used that time to get back to the basics and get back to the fundamentals," he said.
"We were sick of beating on each other in practice and we wanted to get out there against somebody else and just play. The first five minutes of the game we really didn’t get our feet going, and then we settled in and really got it going from there. We’re trying to put 45 minutes of hockey together and we put about 25 in here tonight. We’re getting there, but we just need to keep playing," Cuthbertson added.
Rome outshot Watertown IHC, 14-3 in the first period, 9-7 during the second and 14-2 in the final period.
The Cavaliers committed 14 penalties, including eight in the third period, during the very scrappy and physical game.
Watertown took an early 1-0 advantage off a power-play goal from the team’s leading scorer this season, senior forward Lindsay Pound, who netted his 14th goal of the season on the Cavaliers’ first shot on net off a feed from Alex Lafex.
RFA quickly responded with a pair of power play goals of their own.
Watertown’s Stewart Brereton was called for a hooking penalty at the 9:31 mark, and Rome scored their first goal of the game 27 seconds into that power play with a goal coming off the stick of Keegan Richie off a rebounded put back with helpers coming from Michael Seifert and Tyler Williams.
At the 7:28 mark, Jason Reape was whistled for roughing against Rome, and the hosts again made them pay, this time with their power-play goal coming from Rutkowski seven seconds later on Rome’s first shot on that power play to hand the hosts a 2-1 lead.
Ryan Reilley and Williams were given assists on the play.
Rutkowski said that he was just trying to throw the puck on net and it trickled in to light up the lamp.
"I got it from Ryan (Reilley) and I saw that Mike (Pekarski) was covered so I just figured that if I could get it on net that maybe there would be a rebound, but it ended up just going in on the far side," Rutkowski said.
Rutkowski said it was important to right the ship after the loss to Potsdam.
"After losing our first game we wanted to get after it out there immediately and set the tone. We wanted to go out there and put on a performance for our community," he said.
"We’re not a bad team, we don’t play with disrespect and we just want to go out there and do our best and make our community proud of us, because we are proud to be playing for them. This win was for them," he said.
Pekarski then scored Rome’s third goal of the first period with an unassisted, top shelf scorcher past Watertown netminder Grant Chamberlain.
Soon after, Brereton again was called on another Watertown penalty, high stick this time, to give RFA another power play opportunity, which they capitalized on when Ryan Reilley sent in the shot from inside the blue line coming off the third assist of the period from Williams, who has been sidelined for the past few games with an injury.
With Rome’s 4-1 lead after one, the two teams went back and forth with one another during a scoreless second period in a very physical frame.
Garrett Reilley then scored back-to-back goals to open the third period and Rome cruised to the win with one more power-play goal coming from the freshman defenseman Mastracco as he scored his first varsity goal of his career. His father is the longtime RFA assistant hockey coach, Pete Mastracco.
Garrett Reilley said that it was the team’s power play and physicality that lead them to the win.
"We’re definitely a physical team. That’s what our brand is really. We played physical, got them frustrated and got some power play goals in there that helped us a lot," Reilley said.
"We were just executing our plays. We still have to work on some things, but this was a nice win. We have to play three consecutive periods, we can’t play one period and then take a period off. We have to start having more consistent periods, and stay on our opponents," he added.
Chamberlain finished with 30 saves on 37 shots faced for Watertown IHC.
RFA junior goalie Andrew Ross stopped 12 of 13 shots he faced behind a speedy, and imposing defensive unit.
Rome twice cleared a 3-on-5 penalty kill with Rutkowski, Seifert, and Williams clearing the first man disadvantage, and the trio of stronghold of Nicolas Bonanza, Justin Hussey, and Mastracco for the second.
Watertown IHC fell to 1-3-1 in league play and 4-9-1 overall.
They lost to Rome earlier in the season, 7-2, at their rink.
RFA will look to build on their momentum as they travel to Cicero-North Syracuse on Friday night during a Division I East contest at 6:30 before they return home on Saturday at 1:30 against non-league foe Pelham from Section I.