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MOUNT VERNON, N.Y. — It's odd for a freshman to have a make-or-break kind of impact on a team's season.
Then again, most ninth-graders aren't as talented as Scarsdale's James Nicholas.
The standout winger, who missed nine games with a broken collarbone suffered in the second shift of the Raiders' season opener, has been the team's MVP over the second half of the season.
And it was no different in Monday's Section 1 Division 2 opening round playoff game against No. 9-seeded Pawling (11-7-1). Nicholas tallied a goal and two assists to power the No. 8-seeded Raiders (13-8) to a 6-0 win over the Tigers at the Ice Hutch.
It marked Scarsdale's first playoff victory since the 2006-07 season. The Raiders will square off against top-seeded Brewster in the quarterfinals on Wednesday at Brewster Ice Arena at 8 p.m.
“Being a senior and not having your season end so early is a great feeling,” said Scarsdale senior netminder Connor Wolfe, who stopped 20 shots to record the shutout.
Of course, Wolfe can thank Nicholas for keeping the dream alive. Scarsdale — which went 4-5 in the nine games without its speedy freshman on the ice — has gone 9-3 since his return. Despite missing a rather large chunk of the season, Nicholas is second on the team in scoring with 31 points (14G, 17A).
“It hurt us not having Nicholas in the beginning of the season,” Wolfe admitted. “As soon as he came back, we were able to get more depth and it overall made our team stronger.”
Prior to the injury, Nicholas sensed Scarsdale had the tools for a breakout season.
“I knew we had potential,” he said. “We lost to Pelham 1-0 in the preseason.”
Against an overmatched Pawling squad, the Raiders cashed in on all that potential. Nicholas' line — which includes sophomore standouts Hunter Jurman (1G) and Matt Blakley (1A) — accounted for both of Scarsdale's first-period goals. Nicholas struck first at 10:03 off the setup from Blakley and sophomore defenseman Rob Burns (1G, 1A). Jurman doubled the lead at 2:52 off the feed from Nicholas.
“Me, Hunter and Matt Blakley are all skating really hard, moving the puck pretty well and putting it in the net,” Nicholas said. “Our quickness and shots are helping the team.”
But it wasn't all about Scarsdale's underclassmen. Senior forward Jake Bank made his mark with a team-high two goals and added an assist. He pushed the lead to 3-0 with 12:36 left in the second period, scoring off an assist from fellow senior forward Travis Misarti (2A). Bank also capped the scoring with 12:46 left in the third. Devon Schell (1G, 1A) and Burns rounded out Scarsdale's offensive onslaught with one second-period goal apiece.
The strong display of finishing was a welcome site for Wolfe, who wasn't exactly forced to sweat it out in net.
“Offensively, we were ale to put the puck in the net when we needed to,” Wolfe said. “We had no wasted opportunities. It's necessary when you are this far in the league and the playoffs. You can't waste opportunities or you are going to lose.”
Against high-scoring Brewster, those will be words to live by. The Bears have amassed the most goals (118) in Section 1 Division 2. Only Suffern — a Division 1 powerhouse — has scored more in Section 1. Having suffered a 7-2 defeat at the hands of Brewster back on Jan. 8, Scarsdale knows what they are up against.
“We really have to watch out for Wegwerth,” Wolfe said, alluding to Brewster superstar sophomore forward Joe Wegwerth, a forward on Team USA's U-16 squad. “He killed us last game. We didn't play a good game and we didn’t do any of the things we've worked on practice and it really showed. With all this momentum, I think it will help us come together and put the puck in the net more.”
It will also help to have Nicholas on the ice. He was sidelined during the initial meeting. But will it be enough to tip the scales in Scarsdale's favor?
“Hopefully,” Nicholas said. “That would be great if I could.”
GAME NOTES: Sophomore forward Hunter Jurman leads Scarsdale in scoring with 41 points (21G, 20A) … Prior to Monday's win, Scarsdale had not won a playoff game since the 2006-07 season, when the Raiders beat North Rockland, 6-0, in the opening round of the Section 1 Division 1 playoffs … Scarsdale is 10-3 over its last 13 games, with its three losses coming against top-notch competition in Monroe-Woodbury, Pelham and ETB … Scarsdale hasn't made it past the quarterfinal round since the 2004-05 season. The Raiders fell to Pelham, 5-1, in the Division 2 title game that year. Ironically, they defeated Brewster in the quarterfinals en route to the championship game.
KEYS TO THE GAME
1. Too fast for the Tigers: Pawling struggled to match Scarsdale's speed. The Raiders' young guns — Matt Blakley, James Nicholas, Devon Schell and Hunter Jurman — were especially electric and potent.
2. Strike early: Scarsdale scored inside the first five minutes of all three periods to put a stranglehold on the momentum. Nicholas got it started with a first-period tally and Jake Bank added one in the second and third.
3. Let's work together: The Raiders' cohesion as a team showed up on the stat sheet, as all six of their goals were assisted. Goalie Connor Wolfe had this to say about the team's continued efforts to play as one: “We are starting to work together better. That's all it is. We won our first few and then things sort of fell apart. After that we found out that we can't win as individuals. That reflects now with how we've come together and won.”
Pawling 0 0 0 0
Scarsdale 2 3 1 6
SC (10:03) James Nicholas from Matt Blakley and Rob Burns | 1-0 SC
SC (2:52) Hunter Jurman from Nicholas | 2-0 SC
SC (12:36) Jake Bank from Travis Misarti | 3-0 SC
SC (3:08) Devon Schell from Bank | 4-0 SC
SC (0:19) Burns from Nicholas and Misarti | 5-0 SC *
SC (12:46) Bank from Schell | 6-0 SC
Scarsdale: Jake Bank (2G, 1A); James Nicholas (1G, 2A); Rob Burns (1G, 1A); Devon Schell (1G, 1A); Travis Misarti (2A); Hunter Jurman (1G); Matt Blakley (1A)
Pawling: Thomas Klinger (28 saves)
Scarsdale: Connor Wolfe (20 saves)
Pawling 6 4 10 20
Scarsdale 13 11 10 34
Email Isaac Cass at Icass@cablevision.com | Follow him on Twitter @MSGV_Icass