NJ hockey notebook: State playoff edition
Pingry Captures Skyland Cup
With the improvements in Skyland teams such as Bridgewater-Raritan, Ridge and Montgomery, there was the perception that perhaps Pingry had fallen back into the pack in 2011-2012. After all, it was the Ridge which earned the top seed in the tournament thanks in part to defeating the Big Blue in both regular season league meetings.
However, senior forward Pat Lackey ensured Pingry would not fall to the Red Devils a third time. Lackey showed why he is one of the most talented forwards in New Jersey with a hat trick in Pingry’s, 5-1, triumph over Ridge in the Skyland finals.
Vincent Lima ended up with the game-winning tally for the Big Blue, snapping a 1-1 tie early in the second period, but the top line of Lackey, Nick Branchina and Mac Hugin were the difference in the game. After putting up 35 goals and 35 assists last season, Lackey has proven he can lead Pingry without 94-point scorer Matt Beattie. The senior now has 34 goals and 26 assists heading into the state tournament.
The Big Blue have earned the No. 11 seed in the Private state tournament and will face off against Saint Joseph (Hammonton) for the right to play Gloucester Catholic in the Round of 16. The game will be played Tuesday afternoon at Bridgewater Sports Arena.
Shore Tournaments: Rumson-Fair Haven captures Dowd Cup, A Handchen Cup Split
Rumson-Fair Haven has been building to this moment since the program was founded more than a decade ago. The Bulldogs are in the midst of their best season in program history with an 18-2-0 record and it has culminated in capturing the Dowd Cup.
Rumson-Fair Haven dominated defending champion Marlboro, 6-1, outshooting its opponent, 54-23.
Junior defenseman Hunter Rotchford is the team’s leading scorer and playmaker with 42 points, and he was a catalyst once again, notching three assists in the game. He set up all three tallies by senior forward Gary Cali, including two that were part of a four-goal second period explosion that propelled the Bulldogs to a 4-0 lead.
Rumson-Fair Haven’s program should continue to excel over the next few years. The Bulldogs are a team with many outstanding 11th graders returning next year and another successful season should continue to help grow the turnout for the team.
Meanwhile, in the Handchen Cup, which pits the top teams from Shore A and B against each other, two teams that are no stranger to success at the conference and state level battled it out.
Brick and Middletown South, which met last year in the final four of the Public B state playoffs, stared each other down one more time. The two teams played to a 4-4 tie on January 22nd in their first meeting, and the Eagles got the best of the Green Dragons on February 12th with a 3-2 win. This time around the two teams played to another 4-4 tie, splitting ownership of the Handchen Cup until next season.
It was a back-and-forth affair that saw Middletown South jump out to a 3-0 lead in the first period on goals by Chris Connor, Brian Walsh and Dan Wojcik, but Ryan Price scored for Brick near the end of the opening frame to get one back for his team and keep them in it.
Andrew Reiss drew the Green Dragons within a goal midway through the second, but Zach England answered back 48 seconds later to put Middletown South back ahead, 4-2. Tyler Martin’s power play goal cut the lead to 4-3 as the two teams headed toward the period.
The Green Dragons put the pressure on in the third period and ended up outshooting Middletown South, 48-30, in all and it paid off. David Kearns scored late in the third period to tie the game and send it to overtime where neither team would score.
There will be no rematch in the state tournament this year as Middletown South, always a team on the bubble between the two classifications, has moved up to the Public A tournament.
Big North Tournaments Produce Top-Notch Performances
The three Big North conference tournaments were full of drama and plenty of opportunities for players to become heroes and part of their respective school’s tradition forever. Although hockey is always, first and foremost, a team game, there comes a time where one player must rise above and make the big play.
In the Gold tournament, it was sophomore Alex Linton, who is a star growing before our eyes. When all-time leading scorer Peter McGinley graduates this year, the Maroons will know who their go-to guy is in the future.
Linton came up big in Ridgewood’s semifinal game against Paramus Catholic, which saw each squad’s top lines matched against each other, and, for the most part, neutralizing each other. Linton scored twice in that game to lift the Maroons to a, 3-2, win and a chance to defend their title.
Ridgewood did just that thanks to Linton, who scored both goals, including a third-period game-winner, in a 2-1 victory over Pascack Valley in the finals.
While that game was wrapping up on Rink 2, Sean Scannell was stealing the show on Rink 1, posting a 30-save shutout, including 16 saves in the third period, as Mahwah also defended its Cup with a, 1-0, win over Ramsey.
After the loss of 30-goal scorer Ryan Magner to graduation and 60-point sophomore Luke May to prep school, the Thunderbirds’ ability to score goals had been somewhat neutralized. Mahwah has relied on Scannell all season long to carry the team, which seemed to exhaust him by the end of the regular season. Head coach Kevin Sabella then decided his team should take a week off and have a little fun. A re-energized squad bulled their way through the Green Division tournament, winning each game by one goal, with their captain and net minder leading them every step of the way.
In the Silver Division final, JJ Piccinich skated all over St. Joe’s, racking up four goals and two assists in a 7-4 win. Every time the Green Knights rallied to get back into the game, Piccinich was there to score the goal or set up one of his linemates and keep his team on top. The sophomore has now recorded 35 goals and 27 assists, which easily surpass his freshman totals of 22 goals and 23 assists. Piccinich also had two goals and one assist in Paramus’s semifinal win over Northern Highlands.
To start the year, Piccinich was paired with fellow offensive star Mark Apidopoulos, but “Pick”, as he is called by his teammates and coach, soon proved that he was capable of anchoring his own line and found great chemistry with fellow sophomore Tom Palestina, who subsequently has broken out with 17 goals this year.
The future remains uncertain for Piccinich, since prep schools are undoubtedly interested in the strong, talented young forward, but Paramus and Head Coach Marc Gregory remain staunch in supporting JJ in making a decision that is best for his career. For now, Piccinich will concentrate on Paramus’s upcoming first round game against Sparta.
State Tournament Darkhorses
Every year the state tournaments produce upsets both big and small. This year is no exception and there are some lower-ranked teams that could make a run much deeper into the playoffs than anyone expects. Here is a look at a couple of teams that are potential bracket-busters in 2012.
Goaltending is everything when it comes to the state playoffs. Last season we saw Zach Schiavo make 62 saves when Montgomery defeated Morris Knolls in a shootout to advance to the Public A finals. This season, the name Alec Astorga could find its way into the mouths of fans everywhere.
Astorga, a sophomore net minder for Nutley, backed his travel team, the Skylands Kings 16AA club, to a New Jersey Youth Hockey League championship in the fall. Now with Nutley, the Raiders have drawn the No. 18 seed in Public B and have a favorable matchup against a Glen Rock squad that has not quite lived up to expectations this season.
If Astorga and the Raiders win, they will face off against Mennen power Chatham. Though the Cougars have had another outstanding season, they have struggled to score goals, which sets up a goalie such as Astorga with a chance to steal a big game.
How about those Frozen Roses of St. Rose? Can they go all the way in the Private bracket? It is not likely considering the program has yet to win a state playoff game, but they absolutely have the ability to spring a couple of upsets along the way. St. Rose is led by 50-point scorers Christian Phipps, Billy Regan and Pat McKerry, so they boast plenty of firepower.
Phipps and Regan are both seasoned competitors at the Tier 1, AAA level, going against the best players the area has to offer. After accruing 26 wins in its first six seasons as a program, St. Rose has won 18 games this season and is ready to take on any team that dares to underestimate it because it plays in Shore D. Their first matchup is with Red Bank Catholic on February 28th at the Red Bank Armory.
Best of First Round
The first round of play must be completed by Tuesday, February 28th and many games are scheduled for that day. Here are three of the best in the first round of the state playoffs.
No. 21 Marlboro at No. 12 Westfield, 8:30 pm at Warinaco Rink
It’s always interesting when teams from the Shore Conference travel north to take on teams they would otherwise never see. Marlboro is a steadily improving program from the Shore D division and they will get a good game from Westfield, one of the top teams from the Union County Conference. Each team will be able to use this game as a gauge to see how far they have come.
No. 29 Madison at No. 4 Summit, 6:00 pm at Warinaco Rink
These two teams met last year in the opening round with Summit as the No. 7 seed and Madison as the No. 26. Erik Andersson nearly derailed the Hilltoppers by himself with a four-goal performance that had the Dodgers ahead, 5-3, in the third period, but Summit rallied to win the game, 6-5. Once again, these two teams have been matched up in the first round. We will see if Andersson and company have an upset in them this time around.
No. 20 St. Rose at No. 13 Red Bank Catholic, 8:15 pm at Red Bank Armory
The Frozen Roses are looking for their first-ever state playoff win and have their best team in program history assembled to take a crack it. They draw Red Bank Catholic, which did not meet St. Rose in the regular season. It’s the last chance for top-flight scorer Christian Phipps and Billy Regan, look for the two of them to have a big game as they are surely going to be motivated to get a playoff win.
Mark Krulish covers ice hockey for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @Mark_Krulish