WALL TOWNSHIP, NJ — When you are one of the best teams in the state, each trip to the ice rink is like a business trip — you expect to get the job done — and done well.
St. John Vianney’s win on Wednesday night at Jersey Shore Arena in Wall was not just your average business trip. This time that much-needed bonus was paid in full, and on this night the celebration was on, as top-seeded SJV skated to a 4-1 victory over fourth-seeded Point Boro-Manchester before a capacity crowd in the Handchen Cup Final.
John Gutt tapped in an empty-netter with 50 seconds remaining and Jeremy Connor stepped up in between the pipes when needed to send the Lancers to their second straight Shore Conference Handchen Cup victory in as many seasons.
St. John Vianney (18-1-2) controlled the outset of the final 33 minutes of the contest after Dom Troisi struck for the Lancers at the 11:10 mark of the opening period. Gutt skated down the right wing but was stopped by a sprawling John Meyer in goal for Point Boro. Troisi was there to clean up the rebound and deposit the puck into the empty net.
“That goal was huge – it got us going,” Troisi said. “After I scored that one we just kept pouring in more.”
“We didn’t have a good start, and we knew they only had nine skaters,” Gutt said. “We knew we had to get shots and tire them out and thankfully pucks started going in for us.”
St. John Vianney coach Mick Messemer knew the key to the game could be found in the goalcrease, digging for loose pucks and burying rebounds.
“Meyer is good — he was going to make some stops that most goalies wouldn’t and we would need to bang home some rebounds,” Messemer said. “We kept going at them until we forced their defense to finally make some mistakes, and after that we just started to take advantage of the legs and the numbers that we had — I’m proud of the team for that.”
Gutt was able to strike again with just over six minutes to play in the middle period when he crashed the net and slipped it past Meyer, however, the two-goal lead was short-lived when Matt Buccino trimmed the Panthers’ deficit in half just 57 seconds later. Jason Andreyev and Ryan McCabe were given assists on the goal that drew Point Boro back to within one at 2-1.
Point Boro (15-4-2) had flipped the momentum on the ice, and was now eyeing to flip the script most pundits pegged them to be nothing more than the final obstacle in SJV’s title defense.
Gutt made sure that script would play the course.
Gutt put the essential dagger in the hearts of the Panthers when he chipped in his second goal of the second period with 1:36 remaining in the second stanza.
“Credit to John for stepping up tonight — a hat trick and an assist from our senior captain,” Messemer said of his leading scorer. “I’d like to say we didn’t expect it, but big-time players step up in big-time moments and this was one of those moments.”
“He is such a hard-working kid,” Messemer continued. “When he is working hard it rubs off to the rest of the team; he stepped up in the biggest game of the year so far and that is what you need out of your seniors and your captains at this point in the season.”
The goal deflated the Panthers, who were riding the stellar play of Meyer. The senior goalie has stood tall for his team all season long and certainly did not disappoint with the title on the line, keeping Point Boro within a pair the entire night.
“I’ve known John (Meyer) since we were 10-years old,” Gutt said of his rival. “He’s been a great goalie and he is having a great senior season.”
“Their goalie stood on his head and their defense really grinded us down on the boards,” Messemer added. “They did exactly what they wanted to do, but we executed our game plan and took away the middle of the ice and the high slot in their offensive zone.”
Leading by a pair after the ice cut to open the third, SJV was not out of the woods yet, as the Panthers came out pressing for a goal – anything to get them back into the contest and keep their dreams of a championship from fading away.
SJV has not taken the ice since last Thursday when they defeated Rumson-Fair Haven in the semifinals, while Point Boro was “fresh” off a dramatic come-from-behind victory over Jackson Memorial on Monday afternoon in a game that went beyond regulation.
“It is certainly not an advantage for us to have the days off. I would rather play closer to the next game,” Messemer said of the six days in between the Lancers last game. “With them coming off a dramatic win like they had in overtime is definitely a massive advantage for them.”
“It was nice for us having the time to rest up and prepare for this game, whereas they had another game they had to focus on before playing us,” Troisi said.
Point Boro knocked on the door multiple times in desperation to knot the score up late, but SJV goalie Jeremy Connor locked the door and threw away the key.
Connor was tremendous in goal the entire postseason to this point, only allowing three pucks to beat him in three Handchen Cup games following a 29-save shutout in the Egan Cup championship against St. Joseph-Montvale last week.
Gutt banked home an empty netter in the final minute, and all that was left was watching the clock strike zero — the longest wait in all of sports — those moments when the result is certain, and all that remains are the formalities.
But once the final buzzer sounded, every player forgot the aches and pains and the adrenaline rush comes all at once, and the sprint from the bench to a waiting goalie almost feels like pure instincts.
For the second time in the span of nine days, the Lancers got to make that sprint.
John Gutt scores his second goal of the game and puts SJV up 3-1 late in the second. An empty netter would give him a hat-trick @Hockey_Clan @ShoreConfHockey #PPBvsSJV #NJHockey pic.twitter.com/9qTQ56qXXx
HANDCHEN CUP CHAMPIONS
2018-St. John Vianney — GAME STORY
2013-St. John Vianney
2012-Brick Township-Middletown South co-champs
2011-Red Bank Catholic
2008-Red Bank Catholic
2002-Red Bank Catholic
1997-Toms River East
1991-St. Joseph, Metuchen
1986-St. Peter’s Prep
SHORE CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT CHAMPIONS
2015-Red Bank Catholic
2014-Red Bank Catholic
Written by Casey J. Krish / @CaseyKrish
Special to HockeyClan
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