WALL TOWNSHIP — When the first Shore Conference “all-senior game” made its debut four years ago, a couple of players who didn’t care much for each other got into a brawl. While the players have warmed up to the idea, which has become a tradition and a bookmark staple to the end of their high school careers, the intensity remains the same.
A total of 42 players representing all 25 teams in the conference ensured that tradition continued in front of several hundred fans as the “American Team” edged the “National Team,” 4-3, at the fourth annual Bob Auriemma Senior Showcase at Jersey Shore Arena.
Cam Satkowski’s goal, assisted by Noah Reiss (Brick Township) at 10:25 of the second period, capped off a wild, three-goal flurry in the opening five minutes of the middle frame to make it a 4-1 game before the American Team fought off a late surge from the National Team with its goalie pulled in favor of an extra attacker in the waning moments to pull off the victory.
“It was a little broken play along the wall, we just threw it at the net, saw Reiss in front made a good play, a nice rebound was there for me,” Jackson Memorial’s Satkowski described the game-winning goal. “It was a great experience, a lot of great talent, a lot of good guys, it was just fun to be here with a bunch of great players.”
All tied at 1-1 after one period of play, Joe Rugarber (Jackson Liberty), Jason Harper (Red Bank Catholic) and Satkowski scored in a span of 3:13 to give the American Team a lead it would not relinquish.
“(Mike Racioppi, Middletown South) was standing behind the net. I saw him look up and he made a great pass. I grabbed it, threw it on net and it went in,” Rugarber said. “It definitely got us going. You get one, the intensity goes up and you want to put more pucks in the net. It really gets the team riled up.”
After Rugarber provided the spark and a 2-1 lead, Harper, the American Team’s Most Valuable Player, scored an unassisted goal just over two minutes later. Satkowski capped off the three-goal outburst 1:03 after the ensuing faceoff with the third goal in three minutes to put his team up 4-1 heading into the second intermission.
“We all came out and played really hard, got pucks deep, got a lot of shots, had a great time and a lot of fun,” Harper said. “We’re all friends — we’re all good guys out here so whenever we’re on the ice it’s going to be a lot of run and really enjoyable.”
Liam Noonan cut it the deficit to 4-2 when the Christian Brothers Academy product scored with 2:10 left, assisted by fellow CBA seniors Nic Lidondici and Dean DiFazio.
The National Team wasn’t finished and continued to pile on the pressure. Persistence paid off as Ben Tartakovsky (Manalapan) scored again 40 seconds later with assists from DiFazio and Erik Borshchevsky (Freehold Township) to make it a 4-3 game with 1:30 remaining in regulation.
The National Team called a well-placed timeout and also pulled its goalie in the final moments but ultimately could not get the equalizer as the American Team once again proved the victor.
“It was definitely a great experience out there with a bunch of seniors, last game for a lot of us so it meant a lot,” National Team goalie and Team MVP Brendan Behan of Christian Brothers, said. “It was great to go out there, play hard and compete.
“It’s just awesome,” Behan said. “Guys are at each other’s throats during the season, (but) we come together in a game like this (and) we’re all friends at the end of the day — it’s a great experience.”
An experience Shore Conference President and Freehold Township coach Michael Celano is intent on keeping up.
“It’s really our way of saying thank you to the seniors that have been with us since Day One,” Celano said. “All the coaches get together and we have a “fantasy-style” draft. Each school has at least one player and it’s been a pretty successful model. We get sponsorships from different groups, insurance coverage through USA Hockey, the coaches to run a practice and move it around rink to rink in the Shore Conference.”
Celano is open to a state-wide senior all-star game.
“Throughout the state, North Jersey hockey and the Morris County hockey gets all the notoriety. The Shore Conference is kind of like the stepchild,” Celano said. “The whole purpose of the game is to give our players notoriety and honor our players with one last game, one last thank you to who have made us successful as coaches at our respective schools.”
Two years ago, the Shore Conference Senior Showcase was renamed “The Bob Auriemma Senior Showcase” in honor of the long-time Brick head coach.
Auriemma, who retired following his 54th season with a coaching record of 729-363-102 in a career that began in 1966, is a six-time state champion leading Brick Township to NJSIAA titles in 1976, ’77, ’79, ’86, ’90 and ’97. Auriemma also guided the Ocean County school to eight Gordon Conference titles in 1974, ’75, ’76, ’79, ’80, ’84, ’85 and ’99.
St. John Vianney’s Brett Schneider opened the scoring for the American Team 1:23 into the game, but his former teammate, Kevyn Rigatti, tied it for the National Team at the 8:00 mark of the first period.
Tommy Kampf (Central Regional), Anthony Scalvino (Southern Regional) and Kat Brezniak (Toms River North) each played a period to lead the American Team in between the pipes. Behan, Ciaran McNelis (Red Bank Catholic) and Andrew Slobiski (Brick Memorial) shared time in net for the National Team.
“Warm-ups were pretty brutal since I hadn’t skated in a while,” Rugarber said with a laugh following the game. “But it was so much fun. It was so great to see everybody. It was really nice to get out one more time.”
Written by John Christian Hageny / @JCCSPORTS
Special to HockeyClan
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