MIDDLETOWN, NJ — Marlboro came to the rink Friday night on the heels of a two-game losing streak — the only two losses they’ve suffered all season — and took to the ice with the demeanor they needed to regain the respect of being one of the best teams in the Garden State.
Not only did Marlboro (13-2-2) regain that respect — and more — but they showed that they are more than capable of being the club that hoists the state trophy over their heads at Prudential Center on March 4.
The fifth-seeded Mustangs flexed their muscles on offense as a quartet of players registered a pair of goals in an 11-2 triumph over 12th-seed Robbinsville in the Sweet-16 of the NJSIAA Public A Tournament at Middletown Ice World.
Dante Balsamo, Anthony Galante, Anton Saks and Nicholas Donnelly each found the back of the net two times as seven different Mustangs cracked the goal column. 11 players in all registered a point in the opening state playoff game.
“It was a total team effort tonight,” Balsamo said. “The boys played great — offense, defense, goaltending — just an overall great team win. We got together as a team and decided we didn’t want to lose another one. We came out here today and proved ourselves.”
“After the last two games, we knew we had to stop slacking,” Galante said of his team’s ability to capitalize on scoring chances. “That’s what helped us.”
Marlboro-Holmdel, which entered the night with back-to-back losses after going undefeated in its first 14 games, firmly put them in the rearview mirror and will now focus on defeating fourth-seeded Wayne. The Mustangs will travel to take on the Knights in the quarterfinals set for Monday, Feb. 25. Both teams were eliminated in the semifinals of the 2018 tournament and will be looking for redemption.
“We wanted to make a statement in states,” Marlboro head coach Wayne Anderson said. “We were tired last week. While we only played 16 games, a lot of my guys have other teams as well so they have played a lot of hockey.”
Marlboro will try and forget last season’s setback to Woodbridge in the semifinals after taking a lead into the final minutes of last year’s contest.
“Today, on the anniversary of the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” game, I think of the mentality (United States’ Mens Ice Hockey Coach) Herb Brooks instilled,” Anderson said. “I knew Herb well, and the bottom line is to tell the kids that they need to believe they can do it, and us as coaches need to make them believe that we believe they can do it as well.”
Robbinsville (10-9-2) came out of the gate strong, taking the first four shots of the game as well as being rewarded a power play less than three minutes into the game.
On the man-advantage, Ravens’ freshman forward Jason Gallucci fired a puck that deflected into the slot right into the breadbasket of Marlboro goalie Dmitri Kapranov. The missed golden opportunity early on in the game was a momentum-shifting moment and would be a precursor of a frustrating night ahead for Robbinsville.
Kapranov was an unsung hero in the opening minutes of the game, stopping all 10 shots he saw in the opening nine-plus minutes of action in what would be a 27-save performance.
“We moved Justin Solovey back to defense after having some trouble getting the puck out of our zone, and my goalies are just phenomenal,” Anderson said of the Mustangs’ defensive efforts. “We just focus on trying to get the puck out of the defensive zone as quick as possible.”
After the opening frenzy from Robbinsville, Marlboro turned the tides quickly when Josh Solovey tucked home a loose puck to open the scoring before Saks’ wrister from the point doubled the advantage just 88 seconds later.
“We came out a little slow, but things were a lot better once we got our legs under us,” Anderson said. “After those first few minutes we were able to settle in and regroup.”
Balsamo scored his first of the night in the final minute of the first period staking Marlboro to a 3-0 edge after one period despite giving up 10 of the first 13 shots in the game.
“The first team to score has such an advantage,” Anderson said. “We knew they were a fast and good team, and I told my team to come out strong. We were on our heels a little there and I told them: ‘keep pushing.’ They knew what the game plan was.”
Marlboro controlled the middle frame from the drop of the puck, doubling the three-goal advantage to 6-0 after getting markers from Galante, and seniors Nicholas Donnelly and John Edwards.
“We clicked as a team and buried most of our opportunities,” Galante said. “Lately, we’ve been struggling at putting the puck in the back of the net.”
Robbinsville would respond to the six unanswered goals with a tally from freshman Charlie Pallitto to trim the deficit to five, 6-1.
Jack Werther became the seventh Mustang to score and gave Marlboro a 7-1 lead with 11:23 remaining. Galante scored his team-leading 25th goal of his junior campaign 2:01 later, and Donnelly, Saks and Balsamo followed suit, giving the Mustangs four different multi-goal scorers on the night.
Sophomore Jack Pallitto added his 19th of the year for Robbinsville while Justin Cooper made 27 saves in his final high school start.
The depth shown by Marlboro this season was on full display, proving to teams there are no breathers against this squad that fields three 10-plus goal-scorers and five more with at least eight.
Written by Casey J. Krish / @CaseyKrish
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