MIDDLETOWN – The Middletown railway which acts as a borderline separating Lions Country and Eagles Nation was symbolic on Friday night as high schools North and South collided at Middletown Ice World like two rival freight trains jockeying for position on the same track.
With township dominance on the line, the Lions shouldered with great 2014-15 expectations, and the Eagles looking to reclaim its piece of the Shore Conference hockey landscape, this anticipated non-divisional clash failed to disappoint, as a late third period goal by North captain Kevin Felice staved off a South comeback bid and made a 5-3 winner out of his club.
With the Lions leading by a goal, but the Eagles nipping at their heals with an aggressive penalty kill, North established itself in the offensive zone where Felice floated into the slot and accepted a perfectly placed pass from his sophomore brother Tim that was one-timed to the back of the net for a two-goal advantage at 10:24 of the third.
“I have to credit my brother,” the elder Felice said. “He just knows where I am on the ice and gave me a perfect pass. That was just an easy tap in because of his pass. Nick Paterno started the play with a great pass to Tim. Then it was just brother to brother. I’m very excited we could share a moment like that.”
North coach Matt Clemente claimed adversity was the theme of this game, and he was correct as the Lions fell behind early when a first period penalty led to a Middletown South power play tally at 2:33, as a slap shot from the point by Eagles senior Wes Friberg was knocked down in front and gathered by Brandon Schulman, who slid it home for a 1-0 lead.
The Lions took control of the play shortly thereafter, notching two consecutive markers to close out the first period, as Zach Gazette took advantage of a neutral zone turnover, dragged the puck through the legs of a defender and finished through the open five-hole of net-minder Owen Liskiewicz at 3:59, before Kevin Stager put the Lions on top 2-1 when he jammed home a cross-crease feed from Kevin Felice at 9:01.
The Lions built upon its lead 44 seconds into the second period when Kevin Felice asserted himself in front of the net on and recorded a deflection goal off a low-riding slap shot from the stick of fellow captain Tom Terranova.
Stager followed with his second of the night, jetting toward the crease from the left circle where the senior gathered a rebound out in front and chipped it past a sprawling Liskiewicz – who made 30 saves – at 1:04 for a 4-1 Middletown North advantage.
“I talked to coach at the beginning of the season asking for a bigger role on the team,” Stager said, “so it means a lot to me that he trusted me and believed in me enough to give me that chance. And I’m very happy I was able to produce and come through for the team because of it.”
However, the Eagles refused to settle as an offensive rush for the Eagles left Friberg with an opportunity, and he ripped a slap shot past North keeper Mike Corella – who stopped 27 shots – to cut the Lions lead in half at 9:18.
With just over nine minutes remaining in the middle frame, a similar scene played out, as South’s Ryan Lambert carried into the offensive zone, crossed over the blue line and from the opposite circle as Friberg fired a slap shot past the blocker of Corella, eventually sending the Lions into the intermission with a 4-3 lead, and setting the stage for the Felice brothers’ late insurance goal.
“I feel good about this win because it was the first time this season we’ve had to face any adversity,” Celmente said. “It was 4-1 and everyone was riding high, then they scored two quick goals. Mike Corella stepped up, the Felices stepped up, and Tom Terranova, our best scoring threat, went back on defense in the third period and shut it down. I’m very happy with the way we finished in the third. This is a nice win to build on.”
As for the Eagles, first-year head coach Tony Nemati was pleased with his group’s effort and believes the Eagles can use this meeting as a building block.
“We have a young group of guys who work hard every shift and they did that tonight,” Nemati said. “It’s just hard to come back when you go down 4-1 to a team like Middletown North. They have so much fire power…I like the way our guys did not give up, they did battle as hard as they could. I hope it’s something our guys can learn from and grow from, and I think we will.”
Middletown North travels to Montgomery on Monday, while the Eagles host Central Regional on Tuesday.