WEST ORANGE, NJ — With well over 500 games under his belt, including 11 state titles, Delbarton coach Bruce Shatel shouldn’t feel nervous.
“I don’t know man, I’ve been doing this 20 years… am I supposed to get nervous?” Shatel, 425-58-40 all-time in a coaching career that began in 2001, said with a laugh. “This is like my 550th game… Why do I still have butterflies?”
If Shatel, one of just four coaches in state history to win 400 games, still had butterflies entering the third period of a scoreless game in the state semifinals, James Monahan lifted them as the Delbarton senior snapped a scoreless tie with 8:42 remaining in regulation before connecting again with 2:14 left as the second-seeded Green Wave, the defending NJSIAA Non-Public State Champions, overcame a very tough 11th-seeded Bergen Catholic team, 2-0, at Codey Arena in West Orange.
Deadlocked in scoreless battle, Ben Conrod, foiled on an earlier breakaway attempt, broke in again before he unleashed a twister wrister from the top of the circle on Bergen Catholic goalie Chris Branch. The Crusaders netminder, who engineered upset wins over Pope John and Christian Brothers in the second round and quarterfinals, respectively, made the initial kick save with his left pad but the rebound came right to Monahan who made no mistake scoring the game’s first goal in the 37th minute of action.
“We had 19 shots after two periods and nothing to show for it, but the team rallied in the locker room. We told each other, ‘Stay patient. We got this. Stay cool. Remain calm,'” Monahan said. “Remaining patient was the key t our success. We knew we were going to get one. We just didn’t know when.”
After Monahan gave Delbarton the 1-0 lead it coveted, Michael Balzarotti won the faceoff back to Monahan deep in the Bergen Catholic offensive zone. The big senior forward, whose last two-goal game came back on Dec. 4 against Gloucester Catholic, fired on net through a screen. Branch squeezed his pads, but the puck trickled through and across the goal line to give the 13-time and defending NJSIAA champions a 2-0 lead it would not relinquish.
“I don’t score too many goals,” Monahan, with seven goals this season, said. “Always awesome to put a few away.”
“When we don’t put it away in the first and we don’t put it away in the second, you just have to try and stay composed,” Shatel, in his 18th season at the prestigious Morristown school, said. “You tell the guys what they’re doing well, what they could be doing better… It’s such a great group of seniors and I think they had the right mindset — they wanted the opportunity to defend their title and play in the state championship. That was the difference in the third.”
Monday’s NJSIAA Final set for 8:45 pm at Prudential Center in Newark will be the third straight season Delbarton (19-6-4) and Don Bosco Prep (26-1) will meet in the championship bout.
Delbarton senior goaltender Brett Cleaves stood tall, unwavering, in steering aside 13 shots for the second consecutive shutout this post-season.
“No matter what the score is I play with confidence,” Cleaves, with eight shutouts for Delbarton this season, said. “I just kept claim, played my game, but I was very relieved when we scored that second one. When we scored that one I said, ‘We got this.‘ Never had a doubt.”
After being denied on a breakaway attempt earlier in the game, setting up Monahan for the game-winner was a sigh of relief for Conrod.
“It was awesome — we immediately ran over to our brothers on the glass and celebrated,” Conrod said. “They knew how important that goal was. Relentless chances and to finally put one away… it was a relief.
“I was still angry at myself (after the failed breakaway attempt),” Conrod said. “I split the defense, (Kieran) Kraus made an excellent pass, but I was getting hooked from behind.”
Monahan found the back of the net moments later.
“I dished it over to the wing to Monahan and he put the rebound in — it was awesome,” Conrod said. “We wanted to get back to the state finals more than anything and beat those Ironmen. It felt amazing to put that goal in.”
After a pair of upsets in the tournament, Bergen Catholic coach Tom Keough said the boys accomplished more than any other team had in school history, certainly a heck of a run for a team that was seeded 11th coming in.
“Third period was 0-0 still but the legs just weren’t there today,” Keough said. “You see the top teams — Pope John, CBA, Delbarton — each game it takes a toll on you. It wasn’t the easiest route but we did it. Proud of the boys. Just one bounce. I think Bergen Catholic is back on the map. We’re upset about the loss but nothing to hang your head about.”
“We had a couple chances, we played a very good game, but they didn’t give us a lot,” Bergen Catholic forward Will Frassetto said. “We had the chances and didn’t capitalize. It’s just unfortunate.
“We had a really great second half to the season, a seven-game unbeaten streak, it was just a great turnaround from where we were at the beginning,” Frassetto said. “It was a great game for Bergen. As far as I’ve ever made it.”
With the most state titles in history, Delbarton remains the team to beat, however, Don Bosco Prep has won all three meeting this season, including a 5-3 win in the Gordon Cup.
If anyone can guide Delbarton to a successful defense of its state title it’s Shatel, just the fifth coach in state history to reach the 400-win milestone joining Bob Auriemma of Brick (730), Harvey Cohen of Chatham (547), John Warchol of Seton Hall Prep (506) and Rich McLaughlin of Randolph (411) in that elite status.
“It’s such a nice accomplishment for the these guys to advance to this game,” Shatel, a standout player in his own right at Morristown with 225-career points, said. “We’ve had some ups and downs this year. We have a group that has tremendous character and we’re going to give it everything we have.”
Monday’s state final will be the fourth and final meeting of the season for the two Gordon Conference foes.
“We need to come prepared. We need to be ready. Bosco is a good team. They’ve taken it to us three times but we know we can do this. We know they’re beatable,” Monahan said. “We know we’re the team that should be taking home the state title. We know if we play our game we will.”
“We just have to come out hard and do everything right,” Cleaves said.
— Delbarton Sports (@DelbartonSports) March 1, 2019
Written by John Christian Hageny / @JCCSPORTS
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