By Bob Nuse, Sports Editor
Playing their top rival seems to bring out the best in the West Windsor-Plainsboro High South ice hockey team.
In a season in which they have struggled to win games, the Pirates have been at their best against the Knights. They picked up their first win of the season on Dec. 19 when the topped North, 3-1, to capture the Bachner Cup. On Monday the Pirates made it two straight wins against their rival when they scored three goals in the final six minutes to pull out a 3-2 win.
Freshman Luke Gilliland, playing just his third game in goal in place of the injured P.J. Keenan, made 15 saves and Shikky Rathor scored the final two goals to left the Pirates to the win. WW-P North, which had won three straight games prior to the loss, fell to 5-11.
“We have had quite a bit of a rough patch,” said WW-P South coach Laurent Lassance, whose team improved to 2-13 with the win. “We had to groom Luke Gilliland to be between the pipes. He was willing to do it. He is a freshman who has never played the position before and this was only his third game. He has gotten better in all three games that he has played.
“Tonight all the guys came together for him. They just did not want to lose to these guys, especially the seniors and also the juniors and sophomores because there is the talk of us possibly merging for the next two years and then the juniors and sophomores won’t have the North-South rivalry.”
WW-P North led 2-0 thanks to goals by Sam Parris and William Cobb and appeared to be in control. But Jeremy Wong scored for the Pirates with 5:55 left and then Rathor added a pair of goals to give South the win.
“It was kind of dead on the bench and between periods we were telling everybody to liven up because the game is not over,” Wong said. “We still had 15 minutes of hockey left to play. We buckled down and played our heart out.
“It was a good goal. It was an awesome pass from Nikolai (Yershov). I think it gave us the jumpstart we needed to energize the entire team to play how we played at the end.”
Yershov assisted on Wong’s goal and then again on the goal by Rathor that tied the game. Daniel Wang and Nishant Modi assisted on the winning goal with 20 seconds left in the third period.
“We experimented with some different players to see how they would play,” Wong said. “Luke did an amazing job. I thank him very much. He is just starting out right now and he is doing an amazing job.
“We have been pushing through. Our season has not been as good but we still make the best of it. We have three seniors and they are good players. But we’ll still play hard next year and hope for the best.”
The Pirates have a young team that has been dealing with injuries. But even as the losses mounted the effort has always been there.
“They really took it to heart and played well in front of Luke,” Lassance said. “They fought and earned it today. They didn’t want to take no for an answer and I am really proud of these guys, especially being as rough of a season as it has been and losing PJ for probably another two weeks. Luke has really stepped up big between the pipes for us.”
The veteran South coach also knows that playing their biggest rival always brings out their best effort in the Pirates.
“Whether one team is better than another or if it is even up that is true,” Lassance said. “No matter what talent level is on either team that is the Super Bowl every year, whether it is the Bachner Cup or a regular season game like this one or if it is the Mercer County Tournament.”
By Bob Nuse, Sports Editor