WEST ORANGE – Shane Haviland was the star that shined brightest above Wednesday’s NJSIAA Public B semifinal tilt between Shore Conference powers Wall Township and Middletown South.
Haviland recorded four goals and assisted on two more as the tenth-seeded Crimson Knights forged an upset of epic proportions with a 7-3 decision over third-seeded Middletown South at Codey Arena in West Orange.
The triumph books Wall Township’s first NJSIAA finals trip in school history.
“We knew we had to come in here tonight and play a very strong game against a tremendous team over there in Middletown South,” Haviland said. “We wanted to come out early and get the first. That didn’t happen, but the way we responded was great.”
As Haviland referenced, the Eagles struck first in this semifinals bout as Gavin Gulash one-timed a Ryan Lambert pass to the high slot past Knights’ sophomore netminder Logan Beattie – who made 34 saves in the win – for his 16th goal of the season and a 1-0 lead at 12:10 of the opening period.
Wall rebounded, however, and took a 2-1 advantage into the first intermission after Haviland knocked home a rebound in front off a Zach Tarantino shot 29 seconds after the ensuing face-off to tie it before Tarantino finished on his own with 59 seconds remaining in the opening frame.
Tarantino assisted on Haviland’s second of the night at 4:26 of the second period to make a 3-1 game, but Middletown South cut the deficit to one goal when D.J. McKay followed with his third of the year at the 8:25 mark.
Tarantino reestablished Wall’s two-goal cushion when he gained the zone, drove through the right circle and tucked in his second of the night through the near-side pads of Eagles’ goalkeeper Clay Simonsen (15 saves) with 21 seconds to play in the second.
“We knew they didn’t have their best game the first time we played them this year,” Tarantino said, discussing Wall’s 5-2 win over Middletown South back on Jan. 25. “So we wanted to come out strong and keep the pressure on throughout the game. We knew they were going to come out better than they did the first time around, but I think we matched their intensity and took our game to another level as well.”
The Knights padded their lead in the first 20 seconds of the third period as Haviland worked the puck to centerman Larry Hooper, who whistled a wrist shot from the high slot through the glove-side of Simonsen to make it a 5-2 game. The goal chased the Eagles’ starter from the game in favor of sophomore Adam Bloodgood who played the remaining 14:41 and stopped 11 of 12 shots faced.
“Two goal leads are the worst leads to have in hockey, so we wanted to come out right away and get another one,” Hooper said. “Thankfully we were able to do that on the first shift and it really helped us close out this win.”
Gulash followed 30 seconds later with his second of the night but Haviland completed his hat trick effort 13:03 before sliding his fourth goal of the game into an empty net to close out Wall’s 7-3 victory and send the Crimson Knights into the state finals for the first time in program history.
“That’s just Shane doing what Shane does,” Wall coach Mike Dianora said.
“Last game Logan Beattie was the guy who carried. This game it was Shane. That’s just the kind of guys they are.” Dianora said. “When you’re a big time player you step up for your team in big time situations. You put the team on your back and that’s exactly what he did tonight.”
With the win, Wall is set to meet top-seeded Glen Rock in the NJSIAA Public B Finals on Monday. The puck drops at 7:30 p.m. at Mennen Arena in Morristown.