WEST ORANGE – Glen Rock booked its second straight trip to the NJSIAA Public B finals as the top seed in the tournament brought #13th-seeded Middletown North’s underdog run to an end with a 4-1 triumph in the state semifinals at Codey Arena in West Orange.
It was a decision spurred by the offensive efforts of Panthers’ leading scorer Jake Kinney, who delivered a hat trick performance as part of a four-point outing.
“You can’t look at the seed of your opponent because this time of year there only quality teams left,” Kinney said. “So we knew they were a good team and we wanted to come out strong and stick to our game plan. We didn’t do a great job early on in the first period, but we got stronger as the game went on.”
Kinney opened the scoring on his team-leading 24th of the season at 3:24 of the first but the Lions answered just 35 seconds later when Evan Hall sent a puck below the goal line that was dug out by Brad Heuer who maneuvered his way into the right circle and whipped a shot through the pads of Panthers’ keeper Ryan McAuley (20 saves) to tie that game at 1-1.
Kinney broke the tie at 13:51 of the second period when he gathered the puck off an offensive zone face-off and slipped a quick wrist shot past Lions’ netminder Anthony Manfredi (34 saves) to make it a 2-1 game. Kinney then set up Matthew Maselli for his 16th of the year with under a minute to play in the opening frame to give Glen Rock a two-goal advantage heading into the first intermission.
Kinney closed out his big night with a power-play tally at 1:07 of the second period to make it a 4-1 Panthers lead.
“This is what Jake has been doing all year for us,” Glen Rock coach Anthony Yelovich said. “He’s one the greatest players in the state and this is kind of becoming a reoccurring theme. In the beginning of this game we needed someone to step up for us and he was the one who put us on his back.”
“It’s to a point where, humbly, yes I sort of expect this from him,” Yelovich added. “He’s just a special player and we saw more of it tonight.”
For Middletown North (13-8-5), the loss marks the end of a season in which state hockey pundits questioned whether the Lions would qualify for the state tournament, let alone make a third consecutive trip to the Public B semifinals.
Though not the ending the Lions wanted, it’s still a conclusion sixth-year coach Matt Clemente takes pride in.
“All the prognosticators thought our season was going to be over weeks ago, and I’m just really proud of the way our guys rose above the expectations of others,” Clemente said.
“I’m really proud of this group, and especially the seniors we have who are leaving,” Clemente added. “These seniors have been here for the greatest stretch in Middletown North’s hockey history and it’s because of them and the hard work they put in and the attitude that they have that we were able to get to this point.”
For Glen Rock (21-3-4), this will be the program’s second consecutive state finals appearance after reaching the title game a season ago and falling to Ramsey by a 5-1 decision.
“It’s a great feeling to get back to the finals,” Kinney said. “Last year obviously didn’t end the way we wanted it to but this year we’re hoping to make some history.”
Glen Rock will meet tenth-seeded Wall Township in the Public B finals on Monday at 7:30 p.m. at Mennen Arena in Morristown.