BRICK — Four consecutive saves by Anthony Manfredi in a shootout made a 4-3 winner out of Middletown North at the Ocean Ice Palace Monday evening as the 13th-seeded Lions defeated 12th-seeded Point Pleasant Boro in the quarterfinals of the NJSIAA/New Jersey Devils Public B state tournament.
“Both teams battled tonight and when it comes down to a skills competition like that, it’s anybody’s game,” Middletown North coach Matt Clemente said. “We had the goalie stand up tall for us when we needed him most.”
Manfredi put on a clinic in between the pipes with 30 saves in regulation and overtime before making another four key stops in a shootout
“We see Anthony in practice enough to know how good he is in these situations but to stop four-out-of-four and not even let it get to a fifth round is something special,” Clemente added. “What more can you say? What more can you ask of him? He really came up big for us, and has the past three years. It’s kind of what we expect from him at this point.”
Manfredi’s standout performance allowed converted attempts from Justin Skelly and John Hallard in the second and fourth rounds, respectively, to stand but his heroics in the crease weren’t merely limited to the shootout as the senior keeper steered away another eight shots in overtime, including 10 in the third period just to force sudden-death.
“As is got later into the game, and especially in the shootout, you started to hear the crowd start to get even rowdier trying to rattle you,” Manfredi said. “I just tried to block them all out. From there I just tried to do what I could to stop as many as I could.
“In the shootout I tried to come out of the crease and steer them left and right the best I could,” Manfredi added. “I noticed throughout the game that they like to take shots down low so I knew I had to get down and cover up as quick as I can… Skelly and Hallard put a couple in and we’re moving on.”
Point Pleasant Boro started the scoring when Eric Dahl accepted a lead pass through center ice from Matt Kimak and raced up the right wing where he gained the offensive zone and split two defenders with a toe drag before putting his 16th of the year to the back of the twine 4:34 into the action.
Middletown North (13-7-5) tied it up at 1-1 with 6:57 to play in the first as Hallard skated into the offensive zone while on the penalty kill and picked up the primary assist on a short-handed goal by Brad Heuer.
A Hallard power-play goal, his 19th of the year at 1:44 of the second the period, put Middletown North up one but Point Pleasant Boro entered the second intermission with a 3-2 advantage after a power-play tally by Tom Colorio followed by Dahl’s second of the night which came with just under four minutes to play in the middle frame.
Middletown North entered the third period with 1:50 remaining with the man-advantage and capitalized on the opportunity as Skelly whipped a shot on net from an off-angle that was blocked down in front by Panthers senior netminder Cooper Klotz, but Heuer tapped it home to tie the game at 3-3 and eventually force overtime. Klotz was on point all game for Point Pleasant Boro, finishing with 29 saves.
“This was a nerve-racking game — there’s no other way to describe it,” said Heuer, who now has 14 goals on the year. “But this was a great team win and Manfredi really came through for us. If he wasn’t in the net, we wouldn’t have been able to pull it off.”
For Point Pleasant Boro (13-6-3), the loss marks the end of a remarkable underdog run throughout the season which saw the Panthers skate into the state quarterfinals for just second time in program history.
“I rode these guys hard this year and I’m very proud of the way they played all year,” Panthers’ coach Alex Depalma said. “They played with heart. They were the little half-a-town that could. My job was to push them. But they were the ones who put out the effort every night and I couldn’t be prouder.”
With the victory, Middletown North will take on top-seeded Glen Rock on Wednesday in the Public B semifinals. The puck drops at Codey Arena in West Orange at 6:30 p.m.