Defense paves way as TJ routs Serra Catholic
Thomas Jefferson coach Bill Crousey has made it known for the past few weeks that a home playoff game is very important to his hockey team.
It's important, but nowhere near as important as something else — team defense.
“One will lead to the other,” Crousey said.
That rang true during Thursday's 8-1 win over Serra Catholic at Bethel Park Blade Runners that not only moved Thomas Jefferson into the No. 3 seed in the PIHL Class A playoffs with three games left, but also solidified the notion that defense will be the determining factor down the stretch.
Thomas Jefferson allowed Serra only five shots through two periods (18 for the game) and gave up one goal for the fifth time in its past six games. The only time TJ allowed more than a goal over the past month was in a loss to top-ranked Quaker Valley.
“We have been focusing on defense a lot the past two weeks in practice and knowing what we are going to be facing,” Crousey said. “In my opinion, goal scoring comes and goes. You always have to play good defense.”
Thomas Jefferson had a little bit of both against a Serra team it tied Nov. 11.
Tommy Kimmick scored three goals, Nicholas Tamburi added a pair and Zac Uhlyar scored one and assisted on four others, which was plenty of offense for goalie Nick Ripepi, who turned away 17 shots to improve to 10-5-1 and lower his goals-against average to 2.89.
“I just like the way we are playing right now,” Crousey said. “We were solid in those first two periods and did exactly what we wanted to do.
“The kids may not be happy with a 2-0 lead, but a 2-0 lead with them not getting many opportunities is good enough for me.”
Thomas Jefferson got on the board in a hurry as the Jaguars put heavy pressure on Serra (4-14-1, 9 points) goalie Ian Ritchie. Kimmick scored his first 1:58 in when he beat Richard Ware before firing a backhand past Ritchie's glove for a 1-0 lead. Tamburi scored for the fifth consecutive game two minutes later as TJ took a 2-0 lead after one period.
“It helped us that we got a couple of early goals,” Crousey said. “The last time we played them their goalie played really well. Getting those early ones really got us going.”
Brady Parkinson scored early in the second to give TJ a 3-0 lead before Serra had an opportunity to cut into the deficit with a 5-on-3 for 1:17.
However, TJ struck again.
Uhlyar grabbed a turnover at center ice and turned it into a shorthanded goal when he slid the puck past Ritchie to make it 4-0.
After Serra's Michael Ulishney fired a slap shot past Ripepi to make it 4-1, Kimmick took over, scoring twice in less than three minutes on assists from Uhlyar to give Thomas Jefferson a 6-1 lead.
Ripepi didn't have to make a lot of saves, but a few were spectacular.
Midway through the first, TJ's Kevin McCormick fell down allowing Jacob Gunn a breakaway that Ripepi turned away. In the second period, Ripepi turned away Serra's leading scorer Roman Kraemer from close range.
Thomas Jefferson (13-5-1, 27 points) now turns its attention to securing a home playoff game.
The Jaguars have games remaining with Westmont-Hilltop 12-5-2 (26 points) and Freeport 12-3-2 (26 points) along with oft-beaten Deer Lakes.