Seeds for the 2019 Shore Conference Tournament were unveiled Saturday as the best 16 teams from Monmouth and Ocean Counties were split into two halves of a bracket in the battle for the Hanchen and Dowd Cups.
The puck doesn’t drop on the SCT until Feb. 4, but there are no shifts off at HockeyClan as we delve into the matchups right now! Be sure to check out all the rich history behind the cup tournaments at the bottom as well!
1-St. John Vianney vs 16-Brick Memorial
The Lancers will be tagged by many as the favorites in the Handchen Cup bracket. All around, the defending champs have been one of the best teams in the state and have controlled both ends of the ice on a consistent basis. Since starting the season 3-0-2, the Lancers have won 11 of their last 12 games, with their only defeat coming at the hands of Gordon Conference power Christian Brothers Academy.
The Lancers have received timely scoring to the tune of 4.24 goals-per-game behind the threat of John Gutt (21-25-46) and Dom Troisi (16-15-31). What makes SJV a dangerous team is the depth that they carry beyond the 1-2 punch of Gutt and Troisi with Evan Knoll (16), Colin Meany (11) and AJ Micalizzi (10) also producing double-digit point production on the season.
On the back end all season has been senior goaltender Jeremy Connor, who is looking to close out a fantastic four-year varsity career with a solid showing in the postseason. Connor enters the Handchen Cup with a .926 save percentage and four shutouts in his 15 starts this season. With a run in both the Shore Conference Tournament as well as the NJSIAA Playoffs, Connor could have a realistic chance of approaching 2000 career saves.
“We’re really excited at the opportunity to play for the Handchen Cup for the second straight season,” SJV head coach Mick Messemer said. “Our first order of business is the Egan Cup final on Monday night.”
After the showdown with St. Joe’s of Montvale on Monday night from Loucks Arena in Lawrenceville, the Lancers will return home and shift their focus to the 16th-seeded Mustangs of Brick Memorial, Messemer’s alma mater.
Brick Memorial received the final spot in the bracket after struggling to a 5-12-3 mark after a 2-0 start to their season. The Mustangs have a tall order in front of them playing the top team in the Shore Conference, and to do so, they’ll need to get contributions from their trio of goal scorers. Thomas Swartwout has been the catalyst of the offense this season with his team leading 35 points, while Ryan Chafe (25) and Mark McDermitt (22) have provided the Mustangs with solid production offensively from their top line.
In order to pull off the upset, Brick Memorial will also bank on a big performance from Joe Beshears in net.
“Regardless of the outcome Monday (Egan Cup), we need to refocus ourselves and play one game at a time of good, fundamentally sound hockey,” Messemer added.
The Lancers are the favorite to capture the Handchen Cup for the second straight season and should not have any trouble getting past the first round. Brick Memorial will look to shock the state and flip the bracket on its head, but with a season of inconsistent success and never being at full strength, it is hard to see them putting up too much of a fight in this one.
PREDICTION: St. John Vianney 8, Brick Memorial 1
8-Manalapan vs 9-Rumson-Fair Haven
Manalapan enters the Handchen Cup tournament winning their past four games and are 6-1-2 in their last nine after sitting at 2-6-1 entering the new year. The Braves resurgence has been done in the offensive zone. The Braves formula for success has been simple, when they score they’ve been able to come away with wins. Manalapan has scored at least five goals in eight of their nine wins, however they have only reached that number once in their losses.
The Braves have some of the best depth in the entire state, let alone the Shore Conference, with four players with at least 20 points on the season. The top four scorers for Manalapan have combined for 127 points in just 19 games. The senior duo of Freddie Brutto (162) and Ryan Marsala (126) have both flown past the century point total in their career and have combined for 75 points in their final campaign. Behind Brutto’s 43 points and Marsala’s 32 points is sophomore Joe Mazza and his 29 points on the season. Another senior contributing to the production is Jake Caballero and his 85 career points. Connor Freedman, Andrew Rutherford and Dylan Stein will look to add to the depth scoring in the state tournament.
Pat McCarty has kept opponents off the scoreboard to the tune of a .900 save percentage on the season. He will look to be a key piece in the postseason, especially if Manalapan’s opponents are focused on taking away the Brave’s offense while they have their top offensive weapons on the ice.
Rumson-Fair Haven has had a season full of inconsistent results and enter the postseason with a 9-8-2 record. The offensive production is very similar to Manalapan, however the depth on the Bulldogs bench is a strength in this matchup. RFH is led in offensive numbers by junior Samuel Catalano and his 22 points. The Bulldogs have seven skaters with at least five goals on the season, with only Catalano reaching 10. Rumson has the potential to have four players post a 20-point season with Ryan Croddick (7-12-19), Jack Whitelaw (9-9-18) and Rowan Goldin (8-9-17) have all combined for another 54 points behind Catalano.
Rumson has another seven players that have scored at least five points as they will look to lean on their depth as a strength in this game. A goalie tandem of either Ronan Hickey or Sean Ryan will need to come up with some timely saves in this game and keep the quad of Brutto, Marsala, Mazza and Caballero at bay for the entire game.
With the firepower that both of these clubs have and their proximity in terms of the seeding this game can go either way. Regardless of which team advances, this game has the potential to see some offense, but the defenses and goalies could look to steal the show and help their team advance as they did in a 5-2 win for Manalapan the first time that these teams met.
PREDICTION: Manalapan 8, Rumson-Fair Haven 6
4-Point Pleasant Boro vs 13-Jackson Liberty
The Panthers are coming off winning the A-South division with a perfect 8-0 record inside the division. Despite being in what is arguably the weakest division in the Shore Conference, Point Boro has impressed in their divisional matchups, and have picked up some quality wins outside of A-South including a 3-0 showing at the Protec Ponds Holiday Tournament with wins over Bridgewater-Raritan, Ridge and Hunterdon Central. The Panthers have also impressed in each of their three losses coming at the hands of Middletown South, Middletown North and the only remaining perfect team in the state, Manasquan.
Point Boro head man Steve Plancey is content on his squad receiving the favorable seed that allows the Panthers to have the home ice advantage through the first two rounds.
“As a program, we are happy to have home ice advantage in the first two rounds,” Plancey said. “We need to use that to our advantage and continue to play with more consistency and urgency.”
Point Boro currently fields a roster of 11 skaters and throughout the season, the headlines have always forced the fact that they lack the bodies on the bench that most teams have at their disposal. Despite the low numbers, the Panthers have found success and have never used the lack of personnel as an excuse, nor have they viewed it as a challenge.
“I’ve said it a few times that we don’t have many players, but we have the right ones,” Plancey added. “Proving people wrong (that the numbers were too small to be successful) has never been our motivation. We break down each game shift by shift, and our kids don’t have the time to get frustrated or aggravated during the game.”
The Panthers lack of numbers certainly is not an issue when the players they have are as talented as they come. They have seven skaters with at least 10 points and six of which have at least 17 entering the postseason. Aidan Zielaznicki leads the way with 31 points, including a team-leading 22 goals. Will Herrington (8-17-25) and Eddie Coyne (6-17-23) each putting up 20-plus point seasons to this point. Ryan McCabe is a dangerous threat to score the puck with and is second on the team with 14 goals while Brett Nelson, Tyler Griffen and Jason Andreyev have combined for 45 points.
Another strength for Point Boro is having John Meyer in-between the pipes. Meyer has shined for Point Boro this season to a clip of a 1.00 GAA and .958 save percentage in his 12 appearances.
Jackson Liberty is entering the Handchen Cup as the 13th-seed after losing their final game of the regular season and falling out of NJSIAA tournament through a direct bid with a 7-8-2 mark. The Lions latest defeat on February 1 came at the hands of Point Boro, who triumphed 6-2 and ended Jackson Liberty’s hopes of competing in states.
Jackson Liberty has hit a wall since their 5-0 start to the season and are 2-8-2 since then and have given up at least six goals in each of their last seven games. They have arguably the most dangerous trio in New Jersey, with Joe Granza (18-52-70), Nick LaBianca (32-36-68) and Zach D’Andrea (26-28-54) combining for 192 points in 17 games. The three are playing their final games together after a career that has seen each etch their name as some of the most prolific scorers in Shore Conference history. LaBianca has eclipsed the century mark in both goals and assists and enters the tournament with 224 points, while Granza enters his final tournament with 191 points. D’Andrea has 164 career points, but will return next year for his senior campaign.
Jackson Liberty has shown that they have the potential to make a run when their top line is working, and if Point Boro tries to shut down that group, they’ll need to look to Nick Waldron and his 24 points.
Point Boro defeated Jackson Liberty on Friday afternoon and will meet for the second time in the span of a week. The Panthers will be challenged to take away all three threats, but they were successful in limiting D’Andrea to the only two goals and a combined five points from the group.
“Each guy is committed to their role and overall success,” Plancey said. The pace and speed is much faster in February post-season hockey, so we need to make sure we dictate the level of play. I thought we didn’t play our best game against Liberty last night. I felt we were sloppy and not responsible in the defensive zone. But at the end of the day we found a way to win. We will have practice on Monday to go over our game plan against liberty. I feel they are a skilled team and their record certainly doesn’t speak for how good a team they are. It will be another great game at the Ocean Ice Palace.”
PREDICTION: Point Pleasant Boro 6, Jackson Liberty 4
5-Middletown South vs 12-Jackson Memorial
Middletown South enters the postseason after winning the A-North public title this past week. The Eagles have hovered around the .500 mark since opening their season 4-1-0, but they have been challenged with the likes of St. John Vianney, Manasquan and Christian Brothers Academy and Marlboro, losing by only one goal to each SJV and CBA and Marlboro.
The Eagles have received the majority of their production this season from their leading scorers Demitri Forand and his 32 points as well as Joe Ciervo and his 26 points. A common theme throughout their losses has been the lack of scoring. They’ve only managed to score at least four goals in one of their losses this season, coming in their final game of the regular season, a 5-4 defeat to undefeated Marlboro.
The Eagles have soared when they have been able to successfully put the puck behind opposing goaltenders and behind their top two scorers have gotten 12 goals from Marc Connor and 10 out of Nate Block.
Middletown South also has a trio of netminders who can steal a victory on any given night as Sean Caswell, Adam Bloodgood and Clay Simonson have combined for a .911 save percentage for a defensive crew that has held its opponents to two or less goals in 14 games this season. Caswell has handled the majority of the workload this season and is sporting a .925 save percentage.
Jackson Memorial was given the 12th-seed after rallying to acquire a position in the state tournament with an 8-8-2 mark. Similar to their opponent, Jackson Memorial has struggled to find the back of the net in their losses, failing to hit more than twice in a game in six of their losses this season. Jackson Memorial has been the polar opposite in their wins, finding the scoreboard at least six times in eight games.
The Jaguars have struggled to keep the puck out the net, allowing 5.24 goals per-game. To pull off an upset against Middletown South, they will have to get a few big saves from Will Torres or James O’Hara and keep the Eagles top threats off the scorecard.
Jackson Memorial has been hot over their last six games, going 5-1-0 in that span, however wins over South Brunswick and Toms River North were competitive games. If Jackson can keep the game close into the third period, they could start to cause a buzz in the arena and pull off the upset.
PREDICTION: Middletown South 5, Jackson Memorial 3
2-Manasquan-Point Pleasant Beach vs 15-Red Bank Catholic
Manasquan is the favorite to win the Dowd Cup for the second straight season, and enter the conference tournament as the only remaining team in New Jersey to sport a perfect record.
The Warriors have been one of the most prolific offensive teams in the state, scoring 113 goals in 15 games, good for an average of 7.5 goals per game. The brother tandem of Mike and Matt Franzoni have accounted for 51 of those goals and 86 points. Both of them have proven to be equally as dangerous with Mike (26-20-46) at Matt (25-15-40) putting up very similar numbers.
Despite being considered the heavy favorites to win the Dowd Cup and go back-to-back after securing the 2018 title, Manasqaun coach Adam Houli knows that there is always an upset in these tournaments.
“We are excited to be back into the Shore Conference tournament, and every year there is an upset so we have to be ready at all times,” Manasquan head coach Adam Houli commented. “Being able to defend the Dowd Cup is exciting for us and after how exciting last year’s run was, this year should be no different.”
Behind the Franzoni brothers, the Warriors will look to get production from Luke McNamara (6-22-28), Aidan Tolnai (17-8-25) and Ryan Scott (8-7-15) who have combined for 68 points, but the key to Manaquan’s success in the tournament atmosphere will be the goalie tandem of Ryan O’Leary and Steven Gibilisco, who have split time this year and accredited an .860 save percentage.
Red Bank Catholic has been in the middle of a disappointing stretch since winning back-to-back overall Shore Conference tournament titles in 2014 and 2015.
The 2018-19 rendition of the Caseys have received the 15th seed and have skated to a 4-10-4 record at the time of the seeding. While they have wins over quality opponents such as Middletown North and Wall Township, all four of their victories have come against teams that currently have losing records.
Should RBC wish to pull off a major upset in the tournament, they’ll most likely rely on the scoring of Logan Gallagher and Justin Lidondici, both of whom are tied for the team lead with eight goals each.
Where Red Bank Catholic excels is their depth scoring. Including Gallagher and Liondici, the addition of Nick Reed, Mario Fiego and Chris Lordi create a solid top line of five players who have scored double-digit points on the season.
The storyline in this game and beyond for Manasquan will be the Warriors’ quest to remain perfect on the season. Manasquan enters the Dowd Cup with a 15-0-0 mark and are the only team to come out with a victory in every game they’ve played to this point.
“This group has been resilient. Our senior class has seen both failure and success in their time here,” Houli said. “Going from one win as freshman, to having the chance to complete a perfect season is amazing.
“We have prided ourselves on holding each other accountable,” Houli added. “From our goal-scorers to our depth players, each understand their role and buy into the process.”
PREDICTION: Manasquan 7, Red Bank Catholic 1
7-Southern Regional vs 10-Wall Township
Southern Regional and Wall Township makes for an interesting first round game that is a rematch of the Winding River Holiday Tournament Championship game back on December 29th.
The first meeting ended 6-1 for the Rams after Southern Regional scored four goals the final two minutes in what was a 2-1 game.
“Frankly, it’s disrespectful for Wall to receive a 10-seed,” Southern head man Dan Wasilewski commented about the matchup. “In our first matchup, they played us harder than anyone has all season — they just had two bad minutes of hockey. Wall is a very good team, and it will be even more difficult to beat them a second time around.”
Southern has returned to success this year, only falling to Middletown South and Point Boro after a disappointing 2017-18 season that saw them end 4-12-4. The key to success has been the youth movement for the Rams, which contributes both on the offensive side of the game and in between the pipes. Leading scorer Chris Laureigh has scored 23 goals and leads all scorers with 33 points while fellow freshman Yater Henry has gifted his teammates all season to the tune of 18 helpers and 22 points. Andrew Irwin (11-15-26) and Joe Cajzer (11-9-20) have been excellent at leading these young players this year after enduring the growing pains just a season ago.
Southern also has one of the best young goaltender tandems in freshmen Trey Mattern and Kaitlyn Braun. Mattern has played to a .912 save percentage in his 12 starts in his rookie campaign. Braun has posted a .902 save percentage with two shutouts in her first five career
Wall Township is currently in the midst of the growing pains that Southern Regional endured just a season ago, however they have the pedigree and history to be considered a dangerous team.
Michael Kocsis has emerged as a dangerous scorer in his first varsity season with 25 goals and 35 points in his varsity season, while junior classmate Sean Kiewe has posted a career-best 33 points in his third varsity season.
Logan Beattie has not fallen off from last year at all, and despite the graduation of a roster that has made it deep into the NJSIAA tournament each of the past two seasons, is going to post his third straight season with a save percentage above .910.
If the meeting in the holiday tournament was any indication, this has the potential to be the best game in the opening round. Southern has the win in the first head-to-head matchup, but the game was close for the first 43 minutes. With the disappointing record and the mindset that the first meeting was up for grabs for Wall, it wouldn’t be out of reason to think they can pull off the upset in terms of seeding, while the Rams will have the home crowd behind them as well as the youth that is looking to establish themselves as a force to be reckoned with the next four years.
PREDICTION: Southern 4, Wall 3 (OT)
3-Marlboro vs 14-Ocean Township
Marlboro currently joins Manasquan as the only other team in New Jersey that has yet to taste defeat, however they have two ties on their record to Rumson, and their first round opponent, Ocean Township. The Mustangs have reeled off consecutive victories following back-to-back draws that put them at 1-0-2.
The Mustangs are led by Anthony Galante and his 37 points, who just last week scored his 100th career point in a win over Red Bank Regional on January 22nd. Behind Galante, Dante Balsamo (6-16-22) and Jack Werther (9-11-20) have combined to score 42 points, while Anton Saks, Joe, Justin, and Josh Solovey have all produced double-digit points this season for some added depth.
The Mustangs’ goaltending has performed to the tune of just above two goals a game this season behind the stellar netminding of Dan Gertz, Dmitri Kapranov and Jason Williams who have combined to a .908 save percentage.
Since starting theri season 1-2-2, Ocean Township has played to an 11-3-0 mark since, including a season best six game winning streak, and they have done so through the production of their top two scorers in senior Dylan Haar and sophomore Kenny Maxwell.
Haar has led the team with 32 goals and 43 points over his final high school season after eclipsing the 100 career point mark earlier in the year. Maxwell is close behind with 23 goals and 38 points on the season and is approaching 100 career points for his career as only a sophomore.
While Marlboro will certainly look to limit the threat that the duo pose after combining for 81 points, Ocean will need to rely on their depth to step up in the Dowd Cup tournament and beyond. Ryan Convery and Luke Hagerman have each deposited four goals a piece while P.J. Schwarz, Pat Brannen and Pat Olenski have each provided three each.
Ocean will be led in net by freshman Tony Macaluso, who has done well enough to push Ocean back into the conference and state playoffs this season. The goal for Marlboro will be to limit the production of Haar and Maxwell, while also getting the lead early on in this contest. Marlboro should be considered the favorite, however Ocean is one of the teams that they have not been able to defeat this season. The longer this game remains level will play into Ocean Township’s favor.
PREDICTION: Marlboro 5, Ocean Township 4
6-Freehold Township vs 11-Middletown North
Freehold Township and Middletown North met in early December, with Freehold skating away with the 3-2 victory in an early A-North division contest.
The Patriots spread the wealth around well on the offensive end to the tune of just under four goals a game. The Patriots have had four skaters score at least 10 goals and collect 20 points, but none has scored more than 12 goals and 26 points.
Evan McNamara (12-14-26) is the leading scorer, and along with Tyler Sanborn (12-11-23) and Colin Sullo (11-11-22), the trio of seniors will look to keep the scoring streak going through their final postseason together.
The emergence of freshman Michael Sullo (11-9-20) and sophomore Tyler DesRochers (4-15-19), Freehold can get the production from their underclassmen when relied on. Anthony Altini and Niko Neron have also chipped in five goals this season.
Michael Ottone has carried the weight in goal this season and his .880 save percentage has allowed his club to steal some games when the offense has not been present, such as in their victory over Middletown North.
The Lions have lost its last four games entering the tournament, and now sit two games below .500 on the season. The Lions offense has been mute over their losing streak, only finding the net five times over that stretch. Middletown North have not received much offense beyond their top two scorers in Anthony Tavares and Chris Repmann, who have each scored a team-leading 13 goals.
Junior goaltender Matt Corella has made up for the Lions lack of consistent offense with a .904 save percentage, and will need to have a big impact if Middletown North is to make a run in the postseason.
“This is a great time of year for our sport and our conference,” Freehold Township head coach Mike Celano said. “The committee had a pretty tough job this year. There is so much parity in the Shore Conference. People often overlook the Shore, but as a conference, we consistently put a good product out on the ice. This is another chance for us to showcase ourselves as a league and for our teams
to get some notoriety.”
PREDICTION: Freehold Township 3, Middletown North 2 (OT)
SHORE CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT CHAMPIONS
2015-Red Bank Catholic
2014-Red Bank Catholic
HANDCHEN CUP CHAMPIONS
2018-St. John Vianney — GAME STORY
2013-St. John Vianney
2012-Brick Township-Middletown South co-champs
2011-Red Bank Catholic
2008-Red Bank Catholic
2002-Red Bank Catholic
1997-Toms River East
1991-St. Joseph, Metuchen
1986-St. Peter’s Prep
DOWD CUP CHAMPIONS
2018-Manasquan — GAME STORY
2010-Toms River South
2005-Red Bank Catholic
Written by Casey J. Krish / @CaseyKrish
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