TROY – Senior Jeff Merola stopped 46 shots and his brother Brad Merola scored the game-winner to lift unbeaten Troy Athens to a 2-1 victory over Troy in an Oakland Activities Association White Division tilt Saturday at Troy Sports Center.
Brad Merola, a junior forward, broke a 1-1 tie with 15 seconds left in the second period on a short-handed goal, but it was the ‘senior’ Merola who stole the show for the Red Hawks (7-0-1 overall).
“Jeff Merola was the sole reason we won that game,” Troy Athens coach Joe Barone said Saturday. “He won that game - 46 saves. That’s incredible.”
After a scoreless opening period, Troy senior forward Nik Bester gave the Colts (7-1 overall) a 1-0 lead at 8:41 of the second period. Bester worked a 2-on-1 and scored on Merola with an assist from senior captain John Hunter.
It was the only mistake Merola made all night.
“Three-hundred-plus people (in the stands) and game comes down to one guy – Jeff shut them down,” Barone said. “He carried us.”
Down, 1-0, the Red Hawks went on the power play and sophomore forward John Carandang made the Colts pay when he tied the game 1-1 on a wrist shot with 6:45 left.
Merola’s game-winner with 15 seconds left in the second period was an “all hustle” play as the Red Hawks were short-handed.
“It felt great,” Brad Merola said Saturday of the winning goal. “We knew we had to pressure them short-handed. I came across the blue line and took a chance.”
The winning goal sailed over Troy goalkeeper Michael Fisher’s shoulder.
“I’ve prepared all year for this game,” Brad Merola said of the Troy Athens and Troy inter-city rivalry game. “It’s more of us needing to win a league (OAA White Division) game and staying unbeaten.”
But it was a frenzied third period with up-and-down action that had everyone talking about after the game.
Merola made a great pad save with 9:19 left to help kill off a penalty with Troy buzzing around the net.
With Troy Athens on the power play, Bester made a great rush but Merola made another spectacular glove save with 8:15 left.
Lost in the shuffle on Saturday was Fisher, who was phenomenal in goal for the Colts helping kill off key third period penalties.
Merola came up big time-after-time between the pipes as Troy went on a power play with 2:25 left. But Merola stopped Bester at point-blank range with 1:10 to play to keep the game, 2-1.
“When we go that penalty with 2:25 left I got really frustrated,” Merola said Saturday. “Our guy shouldn’t be doing that (high sticking). All I see is a 6-on-4. (But) we killed it off with 17 seconds left.”
The Colts pulled Fisher to get an extra attacker as Troy enjoyed a 6-to-4 skater advantage for a half minute.
Still, Merola said he remembered how the Red Hawks last week allowed Royal Oak to score in the final minute that resulted in a 5-5 tie – Troy Athens’ only “bump” in a 7-0-1 record.
“I told coach to call a timeout because I did not want another Royal Oak to happen,” Merola said.
Troy coach Tim Zimmerman called Saturday a “really good game by both teams.”
“Both goalies kept them in the game,” Zimmerman said Saturday. “Sometimes the puck bounces your way and sometimes it doesn’t.”
Still, Zimmerman called his 2013-14 Colts “a nice team.”
“They’re a good team to coach,” Zimmerman said Saturday. “Everyone has been contributing.”