WALL TOWNSHIP, NJ — Respect is not given — it is earned.
Manasquan, the last remaining unbeaten team, laid down the gauntlet and backed up its claim rivaling the state’s best as the Warriors put its perfect record on the line and came out with flying colors executing a 7-1 triumph over Middletown North in the 2019 Dowd Cup Championships at Jersey Shore Arena in Wall.
Seven different players hit for Manasquan-Point Pleasant Beach — a testament to its depth and prowess — while Steve Gibilisco turned aside 24-of-25 shots to secure back-to-back Dowd Cups after pulling out the improbable last year.
But this year, the improbable has become the norm for Manasquan, which improved to a perfect 18-0, becoming the state’s first public school to skate into the state tournament with an unblemished record since Bridgewater-Raritan (21-0-3) in 2015.
“We’re just a really confident team — and it’s a good feeling,” Mike Franzoni, who opened the scoring 6:18 into the game, said. “This game we just played — the Shore Conference final — it shows how good of a team we really are. We just need to keep doing what we’re doing, playing hard every shift, working hard every game and just keep doing our thing.”
Outscoring the opposition 139-32 this season, including 10-0 and 10-1 victories over Red Bank Catholic and Wall Township leading up to the Dowd Cup Final, respectively, Manasquan has quickly become a team no one wants to play. Brazenly challenging the entire state to tango and not getting any suitors, it was clear from the drop of the puck Middletown North did not want anything to do with the Big Blue Warriors either.
Alec Wells, Mike Farinacci, Aidan Tolnai, Matt Franzoni, Hunter Alia and Luke Sepe also scored for Manasquan, which pinned Middletown North in its own zone for lengthy stretches, outshooting the Lions, 38-25, in the tilt.
“It’s a bit of a double-edged sword,” Manasquan coach Adam Houli said. “We know there’s a bulls-eye on our back, but it’s fun, it’s difficult, it’s frustrating and full of anxiety all at the same time. It’s one of the things we talked about going into this tournament, we wanted to make a statement and did scoring 27 goals and only gave up two. We wanted to show we were the best team in the building and I think we did.”
Middletown North (9-11-2), which knocked off previously-undefeated Marlboro-Holmdel to reach the cup final on Monday, couldn’t pull the feat a second time, but never stopped battling, cutting the deficit to two when John Miranda scored with 3:21 left in the second to make it a 3-1 game.
Two goals 19 seconds apart from Tolnai and Matt Franzoni in the final minute of the second period was its undoing, however, as the Lions fell behind, 5-1, and could not recover in the third and final frame.
“We were playing well, a real physical game, you know, but it all kind of fell apart towards the end,” Miranda said. “We were on a good run with two upsets over Freehold Township and Marlboro. We were ready going into this game but couldn’t pull through with it. Everyone played their best — I know that for a fact — we gave it our all, just couldn’t come up with the win.”
It has been an up and down season for first-year coach Don Wood, who guided the Lions to a share of the Mayor’s Cup in a 3-3 tie with crosstown rival Middletown South on Feb. 5.
“They’re undefeated for a reason,” Wood said of the Warriors. “They pinned us in for two, three-minute clips. They’re definitely the best team we’ve played against all year, but I was happy with the way our guys competed. We doubled up our shots from the last time we played them and had a lot more offensive pressure. Overall, going in, nobody thought we’d be in this situation against these guys again so it was all gravy for us. Can’t complain with the effort we put forth. The guys have nothing to hang their heads about. We hung with one of the top teams in the state. We just ran into a machine.”
Manasquan continues to live up to the hype, bulldozing everyone in its way. After falling in the NJSIAA Public C Sweet-16 last season, the Warriors are on the warpath in 2019.
“The team didn’t stop and I think that’s a credit to our depth and how explosive our offense can be,” Houli said. “A lot of credit to North — they battled and battled — they scored that goal to keep it close, but our offensive explosion with two goals that quickly took the wind out of their sails.”
“Coach said to take care of business and that’s what we did,” Matt Franzoni, who finished with a goal and an assist, said. “My brother put a nice one in early and we just killed it from there on. It’s a sensational feeling.”
With the NJSIAA Ice Hockey Seeding Meeting scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 14, both teams will sit back and wait their fate.
For Manasquan, whether their performance is worthy of the top seed and a possible first-round bye in their classificiation. For Middletown North, whether the Lions can secure an at-large berth and keep their season going at least one more game.
“Now we set our sights on states,” Houli added. “If we can make a run at this thing, we can have a dream season. We know we’re getting chased. We know it’s hanging there in front of us. We just keep coming, we keep persevering. We’re excited for the state tournament. We’re looking to stay undefeated.”
Related: Manasquan Captures 2018 Dowd Cup
DOWD CUP CHAMPIONS
2018-Manasquan — GAME STORY
2010-Toms River South
2005-Red Bank Catholic
SHORE CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT CHAMPIONS
2015-Red Bank Catholic
2014-Red Bank Catholic
Written by John Christian Hageny / @JCCSPORTS
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