By John Theall Sports Writer
AIMING TO SCORE — RFA’s Nicolas Bonanza, 21, puts a shot on net as Pelham goaltender Josh Borofsky, 35, and teammate Eric Alpert try to make the stop during Saturday’s game at Kennedy Arena. Also in on the play are RFA’s Justin Hussey, 16, and Pelham’s Garrett Martin, 8. Bonanza didn’t score on this play but had an assist during Rome’s 2-0 win. (Sentinel photo by Stefan Matwijec)
Rome Free Academy junior goaltender Andrew Ross said that it wasn’t even a second thought to starting in net on Saturday afternoon at Kennedy Arena against last year’s Division II state semifinalist Pelham Memorial from Section I during a non-league match after coming off a stellar performance the night before at Cicero-North Syracuse.
He knows the net is his responsibility as the last line of defense for the Black Knights, and when he gets the call, he’s ready at a moment’s notice.
Ross picked up the Romans’ first shutout of their season, stopping 19 shots faced, behind a very physical and workmanlike performance from his defense during a hard-fought 2-0 victory.
The win gave RFA a 13-1 overall record a night after they picked up a 4-1 Section III Division I East victory over C-NS to improve to 6-0 in league play. Ross made 17 saves on Friday night and allowed only one goal coming in the first period.
On Saturday, he was even more impressive in his first shutout as a Black Knight while improving to 9-1 in between the pipes this season.
"I have kind of come to expect to play every game. I wasn’t tired, I was focused and I was ready to go," said Ross, who has a 1.3 goals- against-average with a 89.7 save percentage in 10 games this season.
"It feels good to get the shutout. It was pretty stressful the last couple of minutes there, but it was nice to hang on and preserve the shutout. They came down really hard a couple times, and had a good couple rushes, but we stayed in there. Defense cleared the net really well, and got the puck out of the zone. It was really fun to watch," added Ross.
The two teams played to a scoreless tie after the first period, RFA scored back-to-back goals in 1 minute and 10 seconds with scores from leading scorer and senior forward Garrett Reilley and sophomore defenseman Joey Rutkowski.
The goals would stand up as the Black Knights’ defense was very active, and very physical against the defensive minded Pelicans, who allowed 39 goals all season for an average of 2.7 goals allowed per game.
While standing in net during three games in five days last week — all wins — Ross had allowed just two goals with 48 saves in 135 minutes of play during that span.
He stopped 12 of 13 shots during a 7-1 victory over Watertown Immaculate Heart Central last Tuesday, followed by a 17 save, one goal allowed effort on the road at C-NS on Friday before Saturday’s shutout against Pelham.
Ross stopped five shots in the first, seven in the second, and had seven saves in the final period.
RFA Greg Cuthbertson said that Ross was again very solid in net, and has been solid in net all season for the Black Knights.
"He’s our backbone back there. He was tested today and I’m happy for him to get the shutout and the kids that played well in front of him. We’re going to ride him all season," he said.
Garrett Reilley moved ahead of Ed Marsh (2002 graduate) on the school’s all-time points list with the first Rome goal of the afternoon. He has 139 total points in his career and is now three points away from tying Jerry Staudmyer (‘85-’88) for fifth place all-time.
Reilley beat Pelham junior keeper Josh Borofsky with a deflected goal into the back of the net at the 11:14 mark in the second period off a shot from inside the blue line from junior defenseman Nicolas Bonanza, who was credited with an assist on the play.
A minute later, it was another RFA score, this time coming off the stick off Rutkowski, whose wrister deflected into the net off of the skate of a Pelham player and beat Borofsky on the 2-hole.
Junior forwards Tyler Nicolaus and Kenneth Adams were given assists on the play.
Borofsky finished with 18 saves.
Bonanza said the first goal might have been a back breaker for Pelham after matching RFA play for play to that point.
"It was a huge goal for us. We had a battle on our hands after the first period, and in the second we knew we had to get one in, and the puck got thrown around and came out to me and I just threw it on the net. Luckily Garret was there for the rebound and deflected it into the net," he said.
"This was a good test for us. Defensively, we took it to them and didn’t give them any room to work with. They had some very fast skaters, but we matched them, and did everything we could to get the win. Ross also played great for us, and really came up big for us," Bonanza added.
Pelham head coach Ed Witz had picked up his 350th career coaching victory on Friday night — all at the high school — during a 5-0 shutout victory over New Hartford.
The Pelicans dropped to 9-5 overall after the loss.
Cuthbertson was pleased with the victory over a school with such a strong resume.
"We knew we were going to be tested today, and I couldn’t be happier for the kids. We played the game the right way. We played fast, we played physical with them, and it was a very good effort on our parts," Cuthbertson said.
"We put good pressure on them, we took the body and initiated contact on the 50-50 pucks, and did good with our floor checks. That’s what we need to be, we have to play physical and play fast," Cuthbertson continued.
"We focus a lot on details, the little things lead to big things, and that was the result of getting the win. It was a good measuring stick to see where we were at."