When Middletown North captured its first state championship in the program’s 15-year history on March, the first two players Bobby Hampton hugged were Lions junior Khristian Acosta and senior captain Tom Terranova.
It was an embrace that symbolized the fruits of a cohesive and unselfish effort by the Lions collective throughout its 2014-15 season, but what’s more, it was the celebration of a conversation shared between the trio before Hampton had made his decision to suit up for Middletown North.
“Since day one in the summer we had that talk. They were telling me if I decided to play, this could be a very special team, because the boys were ready to go,” said Hampton, a Port Monmouth native who began his scholastic career at CBA, before transferring to Middletown North for his junior year.
Much to the delight of the Lions, Hampton — who earned 2014 Shore Conference Player of the Year honors after a stellar sophomore campaign with the Colts — was on ice for the first day of practice, confirming his participation, but also that he would be forced to sit out until Jan. 1 because of NJSIAA transfer rules.
In his absence, Middletown North jumped out to a 5-2-3 start, but officially welcomed Hampton into the starting lineup on Jan. 6, when his former team, CBA, traveled to Middletown Ice World and skated to a 10-1 victory.
“It was something that I thought I could have some fun with and play with some friends I’ve grown up with,” Hampton said, “and it happened to turn into a state championship season.”
With the junior in the lineup for its final 16 games, the Lions posted a record of 13-2-1, and Hampton seemingly had his way with competition at the Shore Conference and state levels, delivering 54 points on 35 goals and 19 assists in the second half of the season.
But Hampton would save his best act for the final chapter in this tale of championship triumph, as the junior led the fourth-seeded Lions into a Public B finals showdown with second-seeded Ramsey, and recorded two goals and two assists in a 5-4 victory at the Prudential Center.
“When I was able to finally play, I just wanted to step in and do what I could to help out, but we turned into a different team once the state tournament came around,” Hampton said. “Everything was clicking and we just started rolling, and completed the challenge.”
Sixteen of Hampton’s 54 points came during Middletown North’s state championship run, as the junior helped the Lions top No. 29 Jackson Liberty (7-3), No. 13 Indian Hills (4-0), No. 5 Kinnelon (11-4) and top-seeded Chatham (4-0) in succession, before capturing the Public B crown over Ramsey.
“It’s a true honor to win in this sort of atmosphere,” Hampton said. “Everyone was behind us. With the new rink in Middletown a few blocks from our school we had hundreds of fans at every game. … And once we realized how special a team this was and what we had a chance to do, we knew it wasn’t just about winning for ourselves, but everyone who was supporting us.”
Ten fire engines awaited the Lions on the evening of March 9, when the team bus pulled off the parkway, providing an escort back to the campus, and a blaring proclamation to those Middletown residents on the celebration trail about what this team had accomplished.
The proper ingredients were in place with the team’s leading scorer Khristian Acosta (32 goals, 42 assists), the gritty captain Tom Terranova (20 goals, 33 assists), and the scrappy veteran Vinny Tomassetti (16 goals, 32 assists) at the top; not to mention the brotherly offensive tandem of Kevin and Tim Felice, defensive stalwarts Zack Gazette, Nick Kirch, and Ryan Davidson, and net-minding duo Anthony Manfredi and Mike Corella.
But it was Hampton who proved to be the final element to this championship blend.
“Once we got back to school that night there were 300 people in that parking lot waiting to cheer us on,” Hampton said. “It was an incredible moment after an incredible season with a great group of guys. And it’s something I’ll never forget.”
Staff writer Chris Rotolo: firstname.lastname@example.org