NEW JERSEY DEVILS’ HIGH SCHOOL PLAYERS
OF THE MONTH HONORED
FIVE SENIORS, ONE JUNIOR AND TWO SOPHOMORES HIGHLIGHT FEBRUARY/MARCH 2019 SELECTIONS
The New Jersey Devils High School Player of the Month Program continues in this, their 27th season honoring the top scholastic hockey players in the Garden State.
Players named for January 2019 are: Don Bosco Prep senior forward Liam McLinskey (Gordon Conference), Northern Highlands senior defenseman Sean Vlasich (Big North Conference), Princeton junior forward Aidan Trainor (Colonial Valley Conference), Summit sophomore forward Greg Spitznagel (Essex/Union), Morris Knolls/Hills senior forward Sean Murray (MCSSIHL), Ridge senior forward Alex Konovalov (Greater Middlesex/Skyland Conference), St. John Vianney senior goaltender Jeremy Connor (Shore Conference) and Chatham-Madison sophomore forward Molly Coyne (Girls Ice Hockey).
McLinskey scored twice in the state finals, his second goal of the game with 2:45 left in the second period proved to be the game-winner as Don Bosco Prep captured its first NJSIAA title in school history with a 3-1 victory over defending champion Delbarton on March 4 at Prudential Center.
The senior forward bound for Quinnipiac amassed 12 goals and 18 assists for 30 points in 10 games this past month, propelling him to the team scoring lead with 76 points (30-46).
“You look at the way Liam finished the season, it was something special,” Don Bosco Prep coach Greg Toskos said. “In that state-final game he literally refused to lose. As soon as Delbarton scored (to tie it) he took over. In the Gordon Conference final, he was the guy that blocked the shot and went down to put it away with the empty-netter. It just shows you his determination in these big games. He’s become such a complete hockey player in the offensive and defensive zone.”
Despite defense being his first priority, Northern Highlands’ senior defenseman Sean Vlasich put a cap on an outstanding four-year career finishing seventh all-time in scoring at the Allendale school with 119 points — behind six forwards: Patrick Erstling, John Hite, Stefan Bauer, Ryan Ertmann and Andrew and Steven Milanesi.
Vlasich struck for 11 goals and 37 points his senior season, including three goals and 10 assists this past month.
“The kid is an absolute beast,” Northern Highlands’ coach Jason Beswick said. “Seventh all-time in points as a defenseman — he’s one of NH’s all-time best.”
Trainor, the Devils’ CVC Player of the Month in December, continued his torrid pace with nine goals and seven assists in five games this past month. Highlights include hat tricks against Notre Dame in the Mercer Cup semifinal and NJSIAA Sweet-16 win over Jackson Memorial. The junior led Princeton in goals (30), assists (26) and points (56) this season.
With two goals and an assist in the NJSIAA Public C state championships, Spiznagel put the Hilltoppers back on top with its second straight state title with a 6-2 victory over Chatham at Prudential Center in Newark. It was the second straight state final Spitznagel scored twice, too, also finding the net twice as a freshman in 2018.
“To watch what Greg did in the state tournament this year was incredible,” Summit coach Keith Nixon said. “He dedicated his play to the seniors and wanted to do everything in his power to help them leave with another championship. He has such great hands for a big man and his shot is one of the hardest I’ve seen.”
Spitznagel struck fast and furious down the stretch for Summit, accumulating nine goals and 15 points in February/March. He finished with 26 goals and 45 points this season.
“What stands out most is his maturity as a sophomore,” Nixon continued. “He never seemed to be bothered by the gravity of the situation and rises to the occasion in the biggest games.”
Murray starred with four goals to send Morris Knolls to the 2019 NJSIAA Public A state championship with a 6-1 triumph over Hillsborough at Prudential Center on March 4. The senior overcame two penalties-against early in the game to become the first player to score four times in a state championship game since Kenny Agostino accomplished the feat for Delbarton in the 2010 Non-Public final.
“Sean works so hard and sees the ice extremely well,” Morris Knolls’ coach Tim Kepler said. “He always puts himself in great position on this ice. He is a great young man and awesome teammate with a bright future. So proud of him.”
Konovalov, HockeyClan’s State Player of the Month for February, scored the game-winning goal in Ridge’s state semifinal overtime victory over Westfield, before scoring the game-winning goal in the Red Devils’ 4-1 triumph over Randolph in the NJSIAA Public B state championships on March 4 at Prudential Center.
The Ridge senior forward tallied 19 goals and 11 assists in nine games this past month-plus setting new school records in goals (98), assists (90) and points (188).
“He’s one of the best players we’ve ever had here,” said Ridge coach Tim Mullin, who has seen a lot in his 23 seasons as coach at the Somerset County school. “He broke all the school-records in goals, assists and points and led our team to the state championship this year with that key goal that made it 2-1. That says it all.”
Connor put up a brick wall in between the pipes for the Lancers, going 5-1 with three shutouts this past month guiding St. John Vianney to the NJSIAA Sweet-16 before bowing out. On the season, Connor went 17-2-2 with 1.33 goals-against average, .935 save percentage with six shutouts, breaking the previous school record of nine held by Todd Stolarz. With 17 more victories, Connor also shattered the school record for wins as well, securing his 51st with a 14-save performance in a 4-1 triumph over Point Pleasant Boro in the Handchen Cup. Jimmy Ellis previously held the school record with 47.
“He’s started every game since Day 1 freshman year aside from three,” St. John Vianney coach Mick Messemer said. “Broke the wins and shutout records for SJV. He keeps us in every game and really evolved into a leader, vocally, this year.”
With a hat trick for “Chatison” in a 5-2 victory over Kent Place in the Morris Union Girls Ice Hockey League Championships at Union Sports Arena on Feb. 15, Coyne sealed the deal for her Chatham-Madison co-op bringing the title back to Morris County.
Coyne, with 21 goals and 18 assists to lead the team this season, is the Devils’ Girls Ice Hockey Player of the Month.
“Molly was the “Rookie of the Year” last year with 50 points as a freshman. She had another excellent season capped off with a hat trick to lead us to victory in our MUGIHL championship game,” Chatham-Madison head coach Kevin Hannon said. “She is the rock of our team and brings a great attitude and love for the sport every time she hits the ice.”
Each month, December through March, eight student-athletes from throughout the state will be selected as recipients of the award. Public A, Public B, Public C and Non-Public All-Tournament Teams will be selected in March and an overall Boys and Girls High School Player of the Year will also be chosen at the conclusion of the season.
Winners are based on nominations received from members of the media who cover the state’s scholastic hockey. Award winners and their guests receive tickets to a Devils game, a plaque presented by a Devils’ player and dinner compliments of the Devils.
This marks the 27th season the Devils honor high school student-athletes.
Written by John Christian Hageny / @JCCSPORTS
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