NEWARK, NJ — Champions are not born, they are made. Baptized by fire and forged through time with hard work and dedication — and for Don Bosco Prep the juice was worth the squeeze.
Liam McLinksey scored twice before Tyler Sedlak provided the empty-netter in the final seconds to seal it as top-seeded Don Bosco Prep, No. 1 in The Hockey Night in Boston Top 10, finally laid claim to its first-ever state title with a 3-1 victory over No. 2 and defending champion Delbarton in the final of the NJSIAA Non-Public state championships at Prudential Center in Newark.
For Don Bosco Prep, after falling to its nemesis each of the last two seasons, the third time was the charm and certainly worth the wait as players and coaches alike soaked it all in together, forever immortalized as state champions. The Ramsey school had previously gone 0-for-4 in state-finals.
“This one’s for everyone who came before us,” said McLinskey, whose second goal of the game, just nine seconds after Delbarton tied it, proved to be the game-winner. “You’ve got to give credit to Delbarton — they do it year after year — but this one’s for us, for my brother, my cousin two years ago, for guys like Mickey (Burns) and Johnny (Campomenosi) — it feels great.”
“So many alumni are here, been a part of this program and this team goes down as the best team in the history of this program is the most special thing I’ve been a part of — it’s simply incredible,” Don Bosco Prep head coach Greg Tosko said. “It’s not us who put the work in, it’s these guys who bust their butts day-in and day-out. The amount of hockey they play, Bosco hockey and school work, they’re gassed at times and what they’ve done is simply incredible — it’s sinking in right now — I’m feeling it pretty good right now!”
McLinksey broke a scoreless tie 8:16 into the action when the senior forward swooped in and banged home the rebound after Delbarton goaltender Brett Cleaves made several saves in his crease. The puck bounced around in after Zach Hammond’s initial shot from the point, Robbie Grenleaf took a couple whacks before McLinskey was there to clean up the rebound.
The Ironmen, which swept all four games against the 13-time and defending state champions — two regular season victories before seemingly getting over the hump with a 5-3 victory over Delbarton in the Gordon Cup — outshot the Green Wave 14-3 in the first period, but only carried a slim 1-0 lead into the first intermission.
Not to be outdone without a fight, Delbarton battled back to tie the game at 1-1 when Michael Balzarotti hit with 2:54 left in the second period, assisted by James Falivene.
The jubilation from the game-tying goal was quickly erased, however, as McLinskey and Don Bosco Prep came storming back just nine seconds after the ensuing faceoff to take a 2-1 lead and an advantage the Ironmen would not yield a second time.
“First period, just a nice play getting the puck to the net, found a rebound and got one — but then they got one,” McLinskey, The HockeyClan State Player of the Month for January, said. “The momentum was beginning to go their way, but we took it back with a quick goal the shift after.”
“It was another good game just like the Gordon Cup, kind of back and forth,” Balzarotti said. “I think we got a little too excited after we scored that tying goal and their superstars were able to make a good rush play coming right back and hurt us. Overall, I think it was a good game — and they’re a great team. It just shows that one little mental lapse cost us the game.”
Delbarton, with an unmatched 13 state titles — including three straight from 2016′-’18 — never stopped battling. The Morristown school pulled its goalie in favour of an extra attacker in the waning moments of the third period but the ploy did not work as Tyler Sedlak deposited the puck into an empty-net with 32 seconds left to ice it.
It wasn’t until that moment, Don Bosco Prep goalie Max Schwarz breathed a sigh of relief.
“We broke the curse,” Schwarz, who finished with 19 saves, said. “We broke it in the Gordon Cup — that gave us the confidence we needed to beat Delbarton in the state championship.
“That first (goal) in my view was crucial, especially in these kind of games,” Schwarz said. “When they tied it up 1-1, T.J. Schweighardt said, ‘I got your back.‘ I was confident in T.J., Sedlak and Liam they all had my back — I came to Don Bosco to win and we won it this year. This means the world to me. I can only imagine what’s next.”
Don Bosco Prep (27-1) closed out the season in fine fashion, winning each of its last 24 games dating to Dec. 5. It is one of 10 teams in state history to win 27 or more games in a single season.
“They’re the #2 team in the state right, so we knew they would get a push but we didn’t know when,” Toskos said. “The first period we held ’em to three shots and controlled that period pretty well. Second period, I think they carried the play, they got the goal, but Liam 11 seconds later kind of sealed the deal for us. Third period, I think we won the period. Pretty solid period for us.”
It was not the ending the Green Wave had become so accustomed to when the final buzzer sounded. Delbarton finished the season 19-7-4 — the most losses in a single season the prestigious Morristown school has suffered this millennium.
“Tonight, we threw a couple different looks at ’em, but when you have that kind of skill that they have, you can throw the kitchen sink at ’em,” Delbarton coach Bruce Shatel said. “Players win games and with guys like McLinskey, Schweighardt and Sedlak — they hurt us all year. But at the same time, our guys did a really good job in my opinion. I’m very proud. The sun is still shining on the Green Wave and we’ll find a way to get back here at some point in time.”
When the ice chips settled, the season belonged to Don Bosco Prep — a renowned football program that just added an ice hockey title to its repertoire.
“It’s so nice to know you can rely on your teammates the entire game. You know they’re going to do their job, you just have to worry about what you got to do to come out with the win,” McLinskey said. “Just about right now it feels great. I’ve been looking forward to this since last year — 365 days — this feels great.”
“This is for the Campomenosi’s, who played in the ’70’s, the Fortescue’s who played in the ’80’s, my group that played in the ’90’s and the Conte’s who played in the 2000’s,” Toskos said. “And all the Garlasco’s — Mike Garlasco was with is for 12 years and on the 13th we win! And they’re here — they’re all here. It feels awesome.”
Related: Don Bosco Prep Captures Gordon Cup
Written by John Christian Hageny / @JCCSPORTS
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