MIDDLETOWN — There is no diplomacy in the Mayor’s Cup.
In a penalty-riddled rematch before a packed house on senior night, twice Middletown South battled back from two-goal deficits — the last two goals coming off the stick of Nick Lioudakis who delivered the game-tying goal with 3:31 remaining in regulation — en route to a 4-4 tie with rival Middletown North at the 18th annual “Mayor’s Cup” last night at Middletown Sports Complex.
With no love lost between the two Shore Conference public schools, the game began with a flurry with three goals in the first four minutes before things intensified in a second period that saw 12 penalties called totaling 38 minutes, including a couple of dangerous five-minute majors for boarding and charging along with a 10-minute misconduct as the teams got reacquainted.
Down 2-0 and 4-2, Lioudakis cut the deficit to one with his 16th of the season in the second period before completing the comeback for the second time when the senior went to the net and tipped home a pass from Mike Raccioppi, who also scored twice, late in the third for his 17th.
“Both plays I was in the high slot,” Lioudakis said. “The first one they passed it in front to me for the one-timer and the second one that tied it up, Racioppi rushed down the ice and backhanded to me and I buried it.”
Lioudakis and Raccioppi, who had a hand in all four goals with two goals and two assists, were named the game’s most valuable players and held the trophy high as Middletown North skated off in disgust.
“We’ve been here before, we know how to carry ourselves and we know how to compete when we’re down,” Lioudakis said. “It was a great atmosphere, we had the fans behind us, it was really easy to get up for a game like this. Shore Conference then States — I think we’re in a good spot and come out with a lot of momentum after this game.”
“You’re never happy with a tie, but the way this game was going I was happy we got out of this game to be perfectly honest,” Middletown South coach Tony Nemati said. “We didn’t want to head into the playoffs with a loss, especially a passionate loss to North, and we didn’t settle for anything less.”
But it was Middletown North which seized the initiative when Anthony Tavares broke the ice 1:42 into the game. Exactly two minutes later, Justin Skelly scored his first of two to double the lead, but Racioppi slashed the deficit in half just nine seconds off the ensuing face-off to make it 2-1.
Racioppi scored again with 7:11 left, with assists from Lioudakis and Deven Ralph, as Middletown South successfully dug itself out of the hole, but John Hallard buried another to put Middletown North back in front and into the first intermission up by a score of 3-2.
Middletown North (13-3-2) got the jump on South to start the second period as well, taking its second two-goal lead of the game, 4-2, just 2:51 in when Skelly finished the play started by Hallard and Brad Heuer. Once again, however, Middletown South was quick to retort as Lioudakis cut it to 4-3 just 31 seconds later.
The series gave way to a huge scrum at 4:02 that saw officials dole out six penalties — one for slashing and five for roughing — as things escalated rather quickly. Just three minutes later, the game turned even uglier as Joe Ciervo was whistled for charging and Hallard for boarding while Skelly received two for roughing and 10-minute misconduct as coaches tried to settle their teams down.
“A lack of discipline and overall stupidity on our part,” Middletown North coach Matt Clemente said. “They couldn’t control themselves in a situation when we needed to keep our emotions in check.”
The tenacious second gave way to a high-flying third as both North keeper Jake Frontera and South goaltender Clay Simonsen traded save for save before Lioudakis tied it in the waning moments.
“We were up twice in the game but we couldn’t bear down and hold the lead,” Skelly said. “It’s happened three times this year, against them at the beginning of the season, against CBA, and again tonight and it stinks. We’re up, it’s our senior year and we’re looking to put them away but we can’t.”
“Obviously you want to avoid an outcome like this, especially in a game of this magnitude,” Frontera, who matched Simonsen with 29 saves, said. “We just have to regroup and rethink our way of playing. The ups and downs going through the season, we have come together as a team. We have to keep our confidence up and stay together as a team.”
Middletown North holds the edge 8-7-3, all-time, in the Mayor’s Cup that began in 2001.
“Definitely a lot better North team than we saw earlier in the year,” Racioppi said. “They’re one of the best teams in the Shore. We just need to come out harder in the first period, shape up and work on our D getting the puck out of our zone. I think they goals that they scored were just mental errors. A few bad turnovers, a few bad passes we could fix. We’ll be fine down the stretch.”
With momentum on its side, Middletown South stands 13-4-2.
“Our guys battled hard. Our guys showed resiliency,” Nemati said. “They refused to lose and showed a little more poise and discipline, overall, which ultimately allowed us to get back into the game. Is it the result we wanted when we woke up this morning? No. But I’m not going to lose sleep over it either.”
Written by John Christian Hageny / @JCCSPORTS
Special to HockeyClan
Main Image: Middletown North goalie Jake Frontera makes the stick save for one of his 29 stops in a 4-4 tie with Middletown South in the 18th annual Mayer’s Cup on Feb. 6, 2018. (Tom Smith/TSPImages)
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