Jalen Kaplan is the ultimate shutdown defender, but he has a knack for delivering offensively in the clutch, too.
A mainstay on the Delbarton blue line for the past four seasons, Kaplan has chipped in with some timely offensive production throughout his career but none bigger than the team captain’s game-tying, power-play goal with 54.8 seconds left that sparked the comeback over No. 1 Don Bosco Prep in the final of the 2018 NJSIAA Non-Public State Tournament on March 5 at Prudential Center in Newark.
For his efforts, Jalen Kaplan was selected as The HockeyClan/Buttendz New Jersey State Player of the Month for February/March.
“He played his best hockey of the year in our biggest games,” Delbarton head coach Bruce Shatel said. “His goal in the state final was a turning point in the game.”
With Delbarton trailing 2-1 late in the second period and his team blessed with the man-advantage, Kaplan stepped up into the play and found the back of the net to tie the score at two before setting up teammate Hunter Macy for the game-winner 2:31 into the third as the Morris Township school defeated Don Bosco Prep, 4-2.
The triumph was Delbarton’s third straight and unprecedented 13th state title in New Jersey High School Hockey.
“We went through a rough patch in the middle of the season,” Kaplan, selected by the Youngstown Phantoms at the 2016 USHL Draft, said. “But we got together as a group and turned our season around. We were just a really motivated group. Idolizing Bosco the whole season… being No. 2…. that was the driving force behind us.”
Kaplan said two previous losses to its Gordon Conference rival lit the spark beginning with a 2-1 victory over Don Bosco Prep in the final of the 60th Gordon Cup on Feb. 16.
“It was a major turning point in our season,” Kaplan, a standout for the New Jersey Freeze U-18 team, said. “We decided as a team we were not going to let it continue at that point. One of the big things that helped us win it in the end was working on our defensive habits, our coverage in the D-zone. It came down to the little things that were hurting us in games we should have been winning. We needed to tighten up and everyone bought in, worked hard and did what we needed to as a group.”
Delbarton defensive coach Craig Wicker witnessed first-hand the transformation.
“Jalen was a fantastic captain this year, one of a few kids that had the chance to play varsity hockey for four years,” Wicker said. “There’s growing pains along the way and Jalen was no different from any other player in that respect. But to watch him grow up from 14-to-18 (years old) and become a captain of our team he did a great job.
“We were pretty senior-heavy this year from top line to top-D on down to fifth liners and of course our goalie,” Wicker continued. “Sometimes it’s easier to be a captain when you have a lot of younger kids beneath you, looking up to you, but when you have kids who are your peers and lead them without being afraid of any repercussions away from the rink — it’s hard to do. Jalen did a fantastic job knowing it was a team-first environment, knowing how important it was to the seniors to go out as a champion their senior year. He ended up having a lot of those seniors back him up and follow him along for the ride.”
Kaplan finished with seven goals and 13 assists for 20 points this season. The team captain concludes his four-year career with the Green Wave with 23 goals and 46 assists for 69 points including three state titles from 2016-’18.
With nearly two weeks gone by since Kaplan last hoisted the state trophy over his head at “The Rock,” the senior still had trouble finding all the right words to sum up the roller coaster season.
“It’s awesome — it’s unbelievable,” he said with a laugh. “Just to go out on top with no regrets that last final win in a season where people weren’t expecting us to get it done makes it that much sweeter. It’s truly unbelievable.”
“Jalen was a tremendous leader all season. He matched up against the opposition’s top forwards all year and he did an outstanding job,” Shatel, who eclipsed 400 wins at the prestigious institution last month, said. “Jalen had a great career at Delbarton and I am thrilled that he went out on top.”
Written by John Christian Hageny / @JCCSPORTS
Special to HockeyClan
Main Image: Jalen Kaplan in action for Delbarton. The team captain recorded seven goals and 20 points while leading the Green Wave to a 23-6-1 record and its third straight NJSIAA title. (Tom Smith/TSPImages)
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