MORRIS TOWNSHIP — Woodbridge won 21 games and skated for the NJSIAA Public A state title last season at “The Rock” in what was its best season in school history in 2017-18. But after graduating 14 seniors from last year’s state-title run, the wins have been a little harder to come by in 2018-19.
The Middlesex County tri-op made up of players from Colonia, Iselin Kennedy and Woodbridge chalked one up in the win column, though, with a 17-7 victory over Morris Catholic/DePaul Thursday night at Mennen Arena.
Dante Amato, one of the “Cardiac Kids” from last year’s state-final team, scored four goals and added four assists among nine different goal-scorers in what is the highest-scoring combined game in the state this season.
Nate Manente had a hat trick, Ryan Snyder, Garret Ludwig and Ryan Lobur each scored twice, and Zach Kachwalla, Dan Jaroslawski, Matthew Fiore and Richie DeLaMarter also found the back of the net for Woodbridge (1-8), which wins for the first time this season.
“It was a great run,” said Amato, who completed the hat trick with 6:25 left in the first period. “That was great team last year, but we lost 14 seniors from that team. It’s been rough this year but we’re pulling together. Being named captain this year is an honor and I’m honored to be a leader.”
Woodbridge came out on the offensive scoring 43 seconds into the game but Morris Catholic battled back to tie it at 1-1 when Nick Pankowski connected with an assist from Aidan Glass. Woodbridge went back to work and scored three goals in a span of 3:10 as Manente, Amato and Snyder hit in succession to establish a 4-1 lead and never looked back.
After Amato completed the hat trick, the junior forward scored his fourth goal of the game on the power play to extend the Woodbridge lead to five. Aldino Guadagnino, who scored twice for Morris Catholic, cut it to 6-2 with 1:49 left in the first period, but Woodbridge wasn’t finished and registered its seventh goal of the game when Lobur hit with 14.1 seconds to go in the opening frame.
The line of Amato, Snyder and Matthew Haggerty proved too much for Morris Catholic, which was without starting goaltender Andrew Herms due to injury, as the line combined to score six goals and and six assists as a unit.
“For me and Nate, it’s not the first time we’ve played together. But we’ve had to adjust losing so many players,” Amato said. “It was a great run, but we’ve had to adjust. We moved Chris Ferguson back and brought Matt Haggerty up. He’s a senior and we’re working together doing the best we can.”
“We’re a very young team now,” Woodbridge head coach Chris Monticollo said, “and the kids are just starting to learn some of the things we’re teaching them like the forechecking system. We’re not too concerned with the win-loss thing. We’re more concerned with learning the game and now they’re starting to show some positive things and that’s what we’re looking for.”
Carrying a 7-2 lead into the first intermission, Woodbridge scored six more times as part of a 10-goal second period. Morris Catholic, which played six skaters, got goals from Brian Deegan, Guadagnino, Glass and Matt Zuckerman to make it 13-6 at the end of two periods of play.
“We really pushed,” Guadagnino, who finished with two goals and two assists, said. “We’re just a bunch of young players working hard in practice, working to get better. We really pushed it and had one of our strongest games.”
In the end, Woodbridge proved too much to overcome as Jaroslawski, Fiore and Manente scored before DeLaMarter put an end to the game with 7:43 remaining in regulation.
Morris Catholic (0-5-2), which has teamed up with DePaul, has fought hard to keep a team on the ice and first-year coach Duane Perry sees a victory every time his team steps on the ice. When Herms went down with an injury last game, the team’s backup was unavailable and Woodbridge’s secondary goaltender was not an option according to an NJSIAA rules interpreter.
“We’re emphasizing a team atmosphere with this program to give the kids a positive hockey experience regardless of wins and losses,” Perry, in his first season at the helm, said. “The schools buy-in to the program and it’s a place to play hockey that’s not Delbarton, Seton Hall or Morristown-Beard. We just want the kids to have fun and learn the game.”
Averee Acuna also connected in the third period for Morris Catholic, which saw Nick Leyhan finish with a pair of assists.
“The kids are improving all the time. Nick Leyhan in particular, really stepped and had a good game,” Perry said. “This was a game where the mistakes you made cost you goals. You’ve got to move your feet. But the kids will learn from this.”
“It just feels good to play,” Guadagnino said. “Even though we lost we can put a positive spin on this. We’ve really got a solid team going really pushing for hockey. We’re a team right now.”
Monticollo said the Middlesex hockey community really embraced Woodbridge’s run to “The Rock” last season.
“I’ll tell you, everybody rallied around us,” Monticollo said. “Last year was a great season and you can really see the vibe, the new interest created in the program not only in the schools but also in the community. People are talking. People you don’t even know coming up to you and saying positive things. It’s been a real positive for the community.”
“It was a good turnout today, Amato, the team leader in goals with six, said. “We came together as a team and put the puck in the net. It was a tough start but we should be ready to roll now.”
Written by John Christian Hageny / @JCCSPORTS
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