The 61st Gordon Cup quest now begins for eight teams, and more so than in any recent year it seems there could be some surprises lurking on the ice.
“This is one of the more talented Gordon Cup brackets,” said Don Bosco coach Greg Toskos. “There is so much high-end talent and parity throughout the conference, more than I can ever remember. There are plenty of teams that have a shot at the Gordon Cup.”
First among the clubs is top-seed Don Bosco Prep (20-1), which is seeking its first Gordon Cup title since 2014. Last season the Ironmen were edged by Delbarton, 2-1, in the final.
Don Bosco, No. 1 in The Hockey Night In Boston New Jersey Top 10 poll, enters the first round with a 17-game winning streak and will play host to eighth-seed and No. 5 St. Peter’s Prep on Monday. The Gordon Cup final is slated for Feb. 15 at 8 p.m. at Codey Arena in West Orange.
“For us, we look less at the winning streak and more that the playoffs are here,” Toskos said. “It’s like a new season is beginning for every team now and you have to start a new streak. We don’t even think about the Gordon Cup final. You can’t look at playing in a championship game because you can’t forget about the games you have to win to get there. We are just focused on each game in front of us.”
Strong defense, special teams and secondary scoring will most likely be the key components for every club.
Gordon Conference MVP Tyler Sedlak and Liam McLinskey have accounted for 55 goals, but another strength for Don Bosco has been on the back line. Defensemen T.J. Schweighardt, Damien Carfagna, Will Fortescue, Jake Howard, Jake Geraci and Michael Rubin have combined for 24 goals and 85 assists.
St. Peter’s Prep (10-8) cannot be underestimated. The Marauders have plenty of firepower behind forwards Matt Zdanowicz, Christian Della Rocco and Ty Pezzolla, who have accounted for 40 goals. In net, steady Dan Maher has a .910 save-percentage.
Second-seeded and No. 2 Delbarton (14-5-4) will also have a strong say as usual as it prepares to defend its Gordon Cup title, which wasn’t decided until Andrew Bosland’s game-winner 1:34 into sudden-death overtime.
The championship last season was the second straight, after shutting out Pope John in 2017, and represented the eighth time the Green Wave have secured New Jersey’s oldest and most prestigious cup tournament, which began in 1959. Delbarton, which has won the Gordon Cup in three of the past four seasons, could tie Seton Hall Prep with the most overall Gordon Cup titles (nine) if it can win it again this time around.
Prior to the start of the current NJSIAA state tournament, the Gordon Cup winner was considered the de-facto state champion.
Delbarton is led by the dynamic scoring trio of forwards Michael Balzarotti (21-26-47), James Falivene (17-10-27) and Max Williams (8-19-26). The blue line is a consistent unit featuring J.P. Nolan (3-10-13) and Kieran Kraus (1-7). In goal, Brett Cleaves (.934 save %) gives the Green Wave a consistent performer.
Seventh-seeded Seton Hall Prep (13-7-3) squares off against Delbarton coming off a 5-2 victory over Northern Highlands on Feb. 5. The Pirates are looking to snap a 21-game unbeaten streak against Delbarton. Seton Hall’s last triumph over Delbarton came on Feb. 5, 2006 in a 5-2 decision in the Gordon Cup final. The Green Wave holds a 20-0-1 record since, the lone tie coming via a 2-2 outcome in 2015.
Senior forwards Thomas Colucci (20-33-13) and Ryan Kemp (11-18-29) are having strong seasons for Seton Hall.
Another interesting first-round matchup will see South Jersey rivals and fourth-seeded and No. 9 Gloucester Catholic (8-11) going against fifth-seeded and No. 10 St. Augustine Prep (6-7-12). The two clubs split their two games this season.
Gloucester Catholic, seeking its first Gordon Cup, is fueled by high-scoring forward Dom Garozzo. An All-Gordon Conference First Team pick this winter, Garozzo is five goals shy of former Rams’ All-Stater Johnny Gaudreau’s school-record of 30 in a single season. St. Augustine, which shared the Gordon Cup with Delbarton after a 2-2 tie in 2011, boasts standout defenseman and All-Gordon honoree Brendan Karnish.
“The coaches and players are very excited because this is a huge rivalry in South Jersey,” said Gloucester Catholic coach Tom Bunting. “A lot of the kids play club hockey together, so bragging rights will be on the line. I have a lot of respect for (St. Augustine coach) Tim Fingerhut and I know St. Augustine will be ready to play. They’re always physical.”
The final first-round battle is another game that should provide a lot of action – No. 3 Christian Brothers Academy (16-5-1), the third seed, facing off against fourth-seed and No. 4 Pope John (14-5-4). CBA, the lone team to defeat top-ranked Don Bosco this season, skated to a 4-1 verdict over Pope John on Jan. 23 in the two team’s lone meeting. CBA is also seeking its eighth Gordon Cup and first since 2016.
Dynamic-skating forward Kyle Contessa fuels the Colts’ offense with 15 goals and 12 assists and goalie Jake Brown posted a .943 save-percentage.
“Any team can beat you in any game,” said CBA coach Ryan Bogan. “In the Gordon Cup I’ve always felt that the mental preparation for each game is the biggest key. You have to refuse to lose. Any team can beat you and we get to open against Pope John their goalie, Matt Schoer. He is super and has a big-game resume. You get two opportunities this time of year, in the Gordon Cup and then the state tournament. The Gordon Cup is where the playoffs start.
“At this point it’s not just about being the best team. It’s about playing the best hockey.”
Pope John, looking to secure its first Gordon Cup title, relies on Schoer, HockeyClan’s State Player of the Month for December and perhaps the state’s best goaltender. The senior and All-Gordon pick has faced 460 shots and boasts a sparkling .936 save-percentage and is capable of stealing any game with his in-the-crease heroics. Johnny Cielo, Steven Spetz and Lucas Buchanan lead the Lions attack with a combined 37 goals.
This looks to be one of the most competitive Gordon Cups in a while, where with some luck, good goal-tending, and perhaps a greasy goal, any club could claim the state’s most cup.
“Every team is capable of winning it,” Toskos said. “Sure, we are the top seed, but any team has a shot. There is really so much parity in the Gordon this year. Delbarton is the defending champion and they play such a great system. CBA is really deep and fast, Gloucester Catholic has a great player in Garozzo, and Matt Schoer of Pope John can steal a couple of games by himself. Then you have St. Augustine, St. Peter’s and Seton Hall. Every team has a shot this year.”
Gordon Cup Bracket: First Round: 8-St. Peter’s Prep vs. 1-Don Bosco Prep; 7-Seton Hall Prep vs. 2-Delbarton; 6-Pope John vs. 3-Christian Brothers Academy; 5-St. Augustine Prep vs. 4-Gloucester Catholic.
Gordon Cup Championships: Seton Hall Prep-9, Delbarton, Brick-8, Christian Brothers Academy-7, Montclair-6, Livingston-5, St. Joseph-Montvale-3
GORDON CUP ALL-TIME CHAMPIONS
2018-Delbarton GAME STORY
2017-Delbarton GAME STORY
2016-Christian Brothers GAME STORY
2015-Delbarton GAME STORY
2014-Don Bosco Prep GAME STORY
2013-Christian Brothers GAME STORY
2012-Delbarton BOX SCORE
2011-Delbarton and St. Augustine co-champs BOX SCORE
2006-Seton Hall Prep
2002-Seton Hall Prep
2001-Seton Hall Prep
2000-Seton Hall Prep
1998-Seton Hall Prep
1997-Seton Hall Prep
1993-Seton Hall Prep
1992-St. Joseph, Montvale
1990-St. Joseph, Montvale
1986-St. Joseph Montvale
1983-Seton Hall Prep
1978-Seton Hall Prep
1961-Montclair and West Orange co-champs
Written by Paul Bruno / @PaulBrunoHS
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