By Jim Hintelmann |
MIDDLETOWN TOWNSHIP – It wasn’t a division ice hockey game, but when it matched crosstown rivals Middletown South and Middletown North in the annual Mayor’s Cup contest, a tightly fought match would be expected, and that was the way it turned out.
South, enjoying one of its finest seasons, jumped out to a 3-0 lead, but then had to hold off a strong North rally to preserve a 5-3 victory before a standing room only crowd at the Middletown Ice World.
“We knew coming in that it would be a coin-toss game, win or lose,” said South Coach Anthony Nemati. “Just because they graduated some really strong players, they are still a top team at the Shore and have a good chance to win the Shore Conference Tournament. Since it wasn’t a division game, this was like a bonus.”
South, which had beaten North, 7-3, in an early season game, seemed on its way to an easy victory when it grabbed a 3-0 lead on goals by Ryan Lambert, Travis Yawger and Mike Racioppi, but North came back and threw a scare into the Eagles as pair of power play goals by Brad Heuer closed it to 3-2 in the second period.
“We had wanted to get of f to a good start, but South has a real good offense and I wasn’t surprised,” admitted North coach Matt Clemente.
“However, we came back and got to within a goal a couple of times and had chances to tie it, but we couldn’t do it.”
Lambert, who scored two goals and an assist for the Eagles, scored from in close to give the Eagles a little breathing room, but North’s John Hallard got free on a breakaway and flicked a wrist shot into the net and make it a one goal game once more.
Deven Ralph, though, scored on an empty netter with 30 seconds remaining to clinch it.
“We didn’t let up,” said Lambert, a senior. “This is a big rivalry game and they just came after us, but we held on.
“Going into the season we knew that we would be good,” he said. “ Once we got rolling, we rolled over almost everyone.”
As in any rivalry game, the contest was very hard fought and, unfortunately, was marred by a brief fight in the third period resulting in the disqualification of two players, one from each team.
According to NJSIAA rules, the penalty for a disqualification is a two-game suspension, which will begin immediately.
“It’s unfortunate,” said Nemati. “A player disqualification is one too many. We hold our players to a high standard and they must be more disciplined, mature and keep their cool.”
The disqualification will be even more difficult for Middletown North.
“Our best player and team captain (John Dinnocenzo) will miss the next two games and that will be costly,” said Clemente. After falling to SJV in the Shore Conference hockey tournament, Dinnocenzo will miss the Lions opening round game in the state hockey tournament.
Lambert was named Most Valuable Player and received the Luke Nesbihal Award, which was presented by the Nesbihal family. The award is in memory of Luke Nesbihal, a former North player who died at age 19 in 2005.
This article was first published in the Feb. 16-23, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times. Subscribe to the newspaper for convenient home delivery.
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