RANDOLPH, NJ — Delbarton and Seton Hall Prep have a combined 17 Gordon Cup wins over the past 60 years and have had some memorable battles during the state’s most prestigious tournament.
Their opening round contest provided a bit of that old rivalry.
Michael Balzarotti finished with two goals and an assist, Max Williams and J.R. Caganassola also scored and Brett Cleaves did the rest at the other end in making 19 saves to send second-seed and defending champion Delbarton, No. 2 in the Hockey Night In Boston New Jersey Top 10, to a 4-0 victory over sixth-seeded Seton Hall Prep in the opening round of the 61st Gordon Cup at Aspen Ice in Randolph.
Delbarton (15-5-4), which has won three of the last four Gordon Cups, advances to play third-seed and No. 3 Christian Brothers in the semifinal round Wednesday at Aspen Ice at 4 p.m. Christian Brothers defeated fifth-seed and fourth-ranked Pope John, 1-0, in overtime.
The Green Wave, who have captured the last two cups, are looking to secure their ninth title overall – and tie Seton Hall for the most since the Gordon Cup inception in 1959. With the win, Delbarton also extended its unbeaten streak against Seton Hall to 22 games (21-0-1).
“We’ve had a lot of success in the Gordon Cup the past couple of years,” said Balzarotti, senior forward and captain. “There are always tough teams along the way to win it. We want to defend our title. It’s do-or-die at this point.”
It was a high-energy first period, especially from Seton Hall (13-8-3), which was looking to earn its first victory against Delbarton since a 5-2 decision in the 2006 Gordon Cup final. The Prep was also eyeing a better performance than the last time the two clubs met this season — a 7-0 Delbarton decision on Dec. 18.
Seton Hall took away the middle of the ice much of the first, but Williams was able to get open in the slot for a moment and put a rebound high glove-side to give his club a 1-0 lead with 4:06 left.
“It was a great job by my linemates to feed me in front,” said Williams of his ninth goal this winter. “I was able to sneak a shot through up top. We had a good crowd and it really got the momentum going. We are focusing one game at a time and we will be ready for whoever we face next.”
That will now be third-seed and No. 3 Christian Brothers Academy.
Delbarton outshot Seton Hall 11-6 over the high-spirited initial minutes and held the 1-0 lead into the second.
“Seton Hall did a good job,” Delbarton coach Bruce Shatel said. “They came out with a lot of energy in the first period and created some turnovers that led to opportunities. We were fortunate that Brett (Cleaves) stood on his head and kept them off the scoreboard.”
Seton Hall created some extended zone time in Delbarton’s end through much of the first few minutes of the second but was unable to deliver a top-end opportunity. Then it was Balzarotti who finished off a superb 2-on-1 rush with Williams for a tap-in and a 2-0 advantage in the second for his 22nd of the season.
The second could have ended differently than Delbarton holding a 2-0 lead but goth goalies were superb.
Cleaves denied Ryan Rodriguez on a point-blank shot with 1:35 remaining before Jake Schunke (22 saves) made a huge save on an in-close attempt from Caganassola.
“We tried to clog up the middle of the ice and keep them on the perimeter,” said Balzarotti. “It was a defensive-minded game as usual. They had a grew grade-A opportunities that we weren’t too happy about, but I was impressed with the way Seton Hall battled. They won a lot of stick battles and were good on the forecheck and clearing rebounds. It was night and day from the last time we played them. We were happy to get out of here today with the win.”
After killing off 1:42 of a Delbarton power play that extended into the third, the Pirates nearly cut it to 2-1 when Anthony Martine sped up ice on a breakaway. Martine made three quick dekes but Cleaves was just able to turn aside the shot with seven minutes remaining.
Delbarton is so adept at taking away chances in the danger zone, the Pirates knew they had to convert on the few good looks they’d get.
“That’s what Delbarton does,” said Seton Hall coach Mike Atkinson. “They’re a big, strong team and are very strong defensively. When you make a mistake against them, they’re going to make you pay. I think they beat us to one or two pucks and it changed the momentum, especially on their second goal. But I thought that our compete level was very strong, especially compared to the last time we played.
“We were trying to limit their speed a little bit — their transition game can really hurt you — but Delbarton always seems to have that little bit extra,” Atkinson said. “Kudos to them because it was a very good win for them. I was proud of our boys.”
Schunke was pulled with 1:20 left with Seton Hall trailing 2-0. Balzarotti hit for an empty net goal with 58 seconds left before Caganassola scored again on the power play with 29 seconds on the clock.
“I think we’re a completely different team than we were a couple of months ago,” Seton Hall senior forward Thomas Colucci said. “We were a lot more intense today and I think we put up a good fight. We wanted to chip away and not get too high or two low. We had to bury our opportunities and we couldn’t. Delbarton’s goalie played very well… props to him.”
Cleaves faced 19 shots overall but he was able to display his poise and focus in turning them all aside.
“Playing behind our defense is definitely a big confidence booster,” the Delbarton goalie said. “They always keep pucks out of the way, and it allows me to play with confidence. Seton Hall came out hard and they were firing some pucks on net. We are playing better defensively lately, and we just have to keep on doing that and playing well.”
Related: 2019 Gordon Cup Preview and History
Written by Paul Bruno / @PaulBrunoHS
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