Hauppauge, N.Y.: The Labatt Blues, in only their second season of existence, have a chance to clinch first place in the Suffolk County Hockey League's B division. Standing in their way, a Fightin' Irish squad, playing for pride having already been eliminated from playoff contention.
The Blues (6-1) have been led by star rookie Anthony Salerno, who is tied for the team lead in goals with seven and leads in assists with 13. He is currently third in all divisions in scoring. Other new additions have made a lasting impact on this summer's team, such as Tommy McAleer, who trails his linemate Salerno by only one assist. Defenseman Nick Cahill, who signed the day before the team's first regular season game, has 11 points—2 goals, 9 assists—in seven games as well.
Goaltender Steve Pace has exceeded expectations this summer as well. The soft-spoken netminder leads all Suffolk County Hockey divisions in wins, with six, and is second in shots faced and saves. Pace made a Luongo-esque save on Vinny Granice in the Blues' previous game against Nuckin' Futs in the second period that proved to be a pivotal moment in the game. With the Blues holding a 5-1 advantage, Granice got loose behind the tired Labatt defense. With Pace already out of position, Granice slid the puck along the ice into what seemed to be an open net. The goalie reached back at the last possible second to glove the puck on the goal line, drawing the ire of the entire Lightning team, who looked on in disbelief.
"That save was insane, probably one of the best I've ever seen," said Lightning forward and oft-criticized loser Mike Perillo. "Granice got Paced."
Co-general managers Mike Salerno and Jimmy Sutton devoted themselves in the offseason to building a team that would greatly improve scoring for a team that missed the playoffs last summer due to a three-way tiebreaker.
"We went out and were competing on the market for some top guys, especially with the Lightning," said Salerno. "We managed to get to [Tyler] Kevorkian and [Billy] Bowerman before [Lightning general manager Rob] Derosa. And when Jimmy went out and got McAleer, I said 'We're going to go places this summer.'"
One offseason signing that hasn't panned out as well as management had hoped is forward Billy Bowerman. Bowerman has managed only one goal in three games played. A mild back injury has forced Bowerman out of the lineup for the rest of the summer.
Earlier this morning, the Blues put Bowerman on waivers, according to ESPN, to make room for late-season call up Matt Bobko. With Bowerman only signed through the end of this season and the Blues publicly announcing they are not interested in re-signing him, one wonders where he will end up next season. The injury-prone forward will become an unrestricted free agent at season's end.
With a win, the Blues will clinch first place, thus locking in the four playoff spots. If they defeat the lowly Fightin' Irish, they will see the fourth-place Penguins in the first round of the playoffs, while the Cobras will face off with the Lightning in the B division's other semi-final.
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