Middletown North (13-8-0) and Rumson-Fair Haven (7-8-2) discovered they’d drawn each other in the first round of the Shore Conference Tournament while in the midst of a regular season battle on Tuesday night, in which the teams played to an 8-6 decision in favor of the Lions.
The rematch played out in a similar fashion for the fifth-seeded Lions, who skated to a 5-3 decision over the No. 12-seeded Bulldogs, though the meeting could have easily tilted in favor of Rumson-Fair Haven, who saw four power-play attempts distinguished by Middletown North, including a five-on-three session with 8:25 remaining in regulation.
“We did a nice job killing off their power plays, the big one obviously being that five-on-three,” Lions coach Matt Clemente said. “Our defense plays really well when it has to, but I’d like to see a little more consistency on that side of the puck. Our guys are capable of locking it down from the opening draw, they don’t need to wait until the other team is pressing late in the game … but I’m really proud of our guys and this win.”
The first round victory was the Lions’ seventh in nine games, but started out in question when Rumson-Fair Haven’s Alex Riguardi put one past Lions senior net-minder Hunter Dillon, who made 21 saves in the victory, on a wrap-around through traffic, staking the Bulldogs to an early 1-0 lead.
Middletown North’s Tom Terranova answered with the game-tying goal at 9:29, his team-leading 19th of the year, before sophomore Khristian Acosta put the Lions up 2-1 with under two minutes to play first period, driving around the defender and sliding his 15th past the Bulldogs’ Sam Atkinson, who made 18 saves.
“I’ve been playing alongside Kevin Felice and Timmy Felice all year and we’ve developed a nice chemistry and communication on the ice,” said Acosta of his line-mates, who each delivered an assist to the sophomore, “and they found me on the break tonight.”
Rumson-Fair Haven’s Brendan Ban tied at the game at 2-2 23 seconds into the second period, but three consecutive Lions goals — including Acosta’s second of the evening, Kevin Felice’s seventh of the season, and a breakaway marker by Scott Huber — sent Middletown North into the intermission with a 5-2 lead.
“We played a really good team game tonight,” Huber said. “It was great to see our defense step up and killed off four power plays, which is something we’ve had some trouble with this year. When we needed a goal we capitalized on offense, and Hunter played really well in the net.”
“Having just played them on Tuesday, when it was a really run and gun game, that could’ve hurt us if we had that same mindset,” Huber continued. “But we came out with an edge tonight, we fore-checked well, and came away with a win against a good team.”
Conor Deverin scored his 20th goal of the season early in the third period, but that was as close at the Bulldogs would get, as the Lions went to work on the penalty kill, while Dillon turned away nine shots in final session to secure the victory, in turn earning Middletown North a quarterfinals game with fourth-seeded Point Boro on Sunday at 8:30 p.m. in the Ocean Ice Palace.
“Point Boro is one of the best teams in the tournament,” Dillon said. “I know they’re going to try and put everything on net and create quality scoring chances so I’m going to try and go in mentally prepared for that, and I know my team will be prepared for that as well. But if one of my guys make a mistake I’ll cover them, and I know they’ll be there to cover me as well.”
NO. 14 MONSIGNOR DONOVAN 6, NO. 3 FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP 5 (OT): Concluding first round action was third-seeded Freehold Township playing host to No. 14 seeded Monsignor Donovan in a game that provided the biggest upset of the tournament so far, as the Griffins (11-7-3) upended the Patriots (12-9-1) with a 6-5 overtime victory.
“I believed in this team from the beginning,” said Griffins coach Brian Klimakowski, “but we’ve struggled with our consistency. That’s been our problem all year. But I told the boys if we bring the effort we’re capable of bringing, if we play up to our competition the way we can, then we can do this.”
Though Adam Friedman put Freehold Township up 1-0 with an early first period goal, consecutive goals by Connor Grant and Brandon Klimakowski sent the Griffins into the second period with a 2-1 lead, a lead extended 1:46 into the second when Dante Pagano found the back of the net, before Julian Kislin pulled the Patriots within one heading into the intermission.
Freehold Township opened the third period with a pair of quick goals by Friedman and Michael Betts, before Grant deposited his second marker of the game, knotting the score at four.
Greg Russo’s 18th goal of the season put Freehold Township up 5-4 with less than five minutes left in the third period, and though it appeared the Patriots would escape the first round with nothing more than a scare, Monsignor Donovan’s Matt Drake extended the contest, scoring with 46 seconds remaining in regulation, and setting the stage for Andrew Gargaloni.
Gargaloni, who entered the game with 98 career points, had been pursuing the century mark for six games before recording his second assist of the night of on Grant’s game-tying goal and surpassing the plateau on Drake’s overtime-inducing tally … however, his biggest thrill had yet to come.
“Andrew had been struggling a bit of late, I believe because this milestone was hanging over his head,” Klimakowski said, “but he’s a goal scorer, he’s a playmaker, we expect him to have night’s like this, and he came through when we needed him most.”
At 7:57 of the overtime period, Gargaloni sent a shockwave through the Shore Conference with a game-winning goal that earned the Griffins a quarter-finals meeting on Monday with Howell.
“This was a great win for us,” Klimakowski said, “and we’re scheduled to play another talented team in Howell in the next round. If we’re to continue on we’ll have to play like did tonight, with tough defense, timely goal scoring, and another strong performance from Zach Robbins in net.”
SHORE CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT
Midd. North 5, Rumson-FH 3
1-1-1 — 3
2-3-0 — 5
Goals/Assists: First period: (R) Riguardi (Monteferrante) 8:29; (M) Terranova (Gazette) 9:29; (M) Acosta (T. Felice, K. Felice) 12:44; Second period: (R) B. Ban :23; (M) Acosta (T. Felice) 5:25; (M) Huber (Acosta, Meyer) 12:37; (M) K. Felice (Meyer) 13:26; Third period: (R) Deverin (Monteferrante) 4:43; Saves: (M) Dillon 21, (R) Atkinson 18; Shots: Rumson-FH 24-23; Records: Midd. North (13-8-0), Rumson-FH (7-8-2).