Rumson-Fair Haven Captures Handchen Cup With 9-3 Win Over Middletown South

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WALL TOWNSHIP — Get out of the way — the Bulldogs are on a roll.

Rumson-Fair Haven scored four times in the opening period, and when the dust finally settled they stood alone atop the mountain with a 9-3 victory over Middletown South in the 2020 Handchen Cup Final Thursday night at Jersey Shore Arena.

Rumson-Fair Haven captain Rowan Goldin celebrates after making it 3-0 during the RFH-Middletown South Handchen Cup Final at Jersey Shore Arena, Wall Township, NJ. 2/20/20. (Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)

Senior Sam Catalano scored a hat trick among six different RFH skaters who found the back of the net to secure their first Shore Conference Tournament title since the 2012 Dowd Cup.

“We just play as a team every time we step on the ice,” said Catalano. “We have no superstars. Everyone just plays for each other.”

“The school’s only done it one time — ever,” fellow senior Jack Whitelaw said. “So we came out hot, strived for the win and we didn’t stop — it’s a great feeling.”  

Rumson-Fair Haven (15-2-3) slugged through their first two games of the tournament and made it clearly known early and often that tonight would mark another celebration.

Max Nicholson pierced the scoreboard first just 2:22 into the game to get things started. Catalano followed suit just 1:59 later to double the lead to 2-0.

Middletown South’s Dimitri Forand circles the net looking to make a play during the RFH-Middletown South Handchen Cup Final at Jersey Shore Arena, Wall Township, NJ. 2/20/20. (Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)

Rowan Goldin and Whitelaw stamped their names in the goal column, too, bringing the Bulldogs’ advantage to 4-0 less than 10 minutes into the game.

“We have just been snake-bitten in terms of scoring goals,” RFH first-year head coach Eric Zullo said. “We know when we dominate in the offensive zone that the chances are going to come and we just have to bury them.”

Keeping the opposition off the scoreboard has not been an issue for the Bulldogs as their suffocating defense has only surrendered 24 goals in 20 games. Where the troubles have lied are on the offensive side of the ice.

“We finally found that chemistry where everyone fits; they are working well and executing on those chances in the offensive zone,” Zullo said.

“It’s awesome,” Goldin said. “Words can’t describe it, honestly.” 

The 4-0 deficit staring Middletown South down was daunting, but coming back onto the ice for the start of the second period the Eagles sprang to life. Rumson-Fair Haven goalie Ronan Hickey stood tall, however, making a pair of point-blank saves from the slot to fan the flame Middletown South was igniting.

Before long, Goldin was able to spring Catalano on a breakaway, where the senior captain punched in his own rebound to put the Bulldogs up 5-0. In the blink of an eye, Rumson hit twice more – expanding the lead to seven.

RFH’s Sam Catalano, scoring his first goal here, had a hat trick to lead RFH against Middletown South in the Handchen Cup Final at Jersey Shore Arena, Wall Township, NJ. 2/20/20. (Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)

“I told the boys to keep doing what they were doing — don’t change the system and don’t change the style,” Zullo said of the offensive outburst. “Play aggressive and make them skate 200-feet if they were going to score a goal.”

“They did what the needed to do to win tonight, and all of the congratulations deserves to go to them.”

Andreas Forand deposited the first of his two goals with 50 ticks remaining in the second period to put Middletown South on the board before the intermission.

Brett Pritchard found the back of the net twice in the final stanza for the Bulldogs before Nate Block of Middletown South capped off the scoring for the 9-3 final.

Related: Back-to-Back! St. John Vianney Edges Point Pleasant Boro for 2019 Handchen Cup

Rumson-Fair Haven goalie Ronan Hickey eyes the puck to his crest of his jersey for one of a number of saves during the RFH-Middletown South Handchen Cup Final at Jersey Shore Arena, Wall Township, NJ. 2/20/20. (Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)

Rumson-Fair Haven is not new to the Shore Conference Tournament finals, but it has been a long time coming since defeating Marlboro 6-1 in the 2012 Dowd Cup.

“All day in school it was just nervous waiting,” Zullo said. “I knew they were pumped and ready to go.”

Post-season hockey is bittersweet in the given sense that any night could be your final time taking the ice, especially for the seniors. Opportunities like the one laid out in front of Rumson on this night are far and in between. The chance to hoist a trophy above your head and inscribe the words “Champions” will ring eternally. This was RFH’s Game-7.

“These guys have played in big games before, but they all were saying this is the biggest game of their lives,” Zullo said. “This was the chance to put a stamp on the RFH program and bring us a title.”

“All the hard work they’ve put in and the film and practice elements we didn’t have last year,” Zullo, determined to usher in a new era of RFH hockey, said. “It really changed their positivity and they always come in ready to go.”

Related: 2020 NJSIAA Ice Hockey State Tournament Seeds, Schedule and History

And the celebration begins after Rumson-Fair Haven wins the 2020 Handchen Cup after a 9-3 win over Middletown in the cup final at Jersey Shore Arena, Wall Township, NJ. 2/20/20. (Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)

Rumson-Fair Haven finished the 2018-19 season 10-10-2, but were able to pull out a win as the 9-seed in the opening round of the Shore Conference Tournament. This season, many didn’t think RFH would contend for the Shore Conference’s top prize, but when RFH defeated an annual Public B power in Westfield 7-1 on Dec. 9, expectations started to change.

“After that game early, it really showed the kids that we are going to be able to compete with some of the better teams in the state,” Zullo said.

Rumson-Fair Haven took down other top talent in the Shore Conference, including the likes of St. John Vianney, Middletown North, Jackson Liberty and now Middletown South twice. They also tied the Dowd Cup Champion in Manasquan and St. Peter’s Prep of Jersey City from the heralded Gordon Conference.

“There were little building blocks against the better teams throughout the season and they led to this moment,” Zullo said. “When they climbed all the steps and got to the top they were ready for this and got their championship.”

It wasn’t Gatorade, but the effect and feeling are the same for RFH Coach Eric Zullo after winning the Handchen Cup at Jersey Shore Arena, Wall Township, NJ. 2/20/20. (Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)

Rumson-Fair Haven will celebrate tonight before placing the Handchen Cup in the trophy case to grace the halls for all eternity, but don’t be fooled into thinking they are contempt. No, RFH is only three-quarters of the way through their checklist.

But what exactly remains to be added to the accolades this group has already garnered this season?

Win the B-North division. Check.

The top seed in the Shore Conference Tournament. Check.

The Handchen Cup. Check.

The Public C State Championship? That legacy has yet to be written.

“In the beginning of the season nobody really thought we would be that good,” Whitelaw said. “We thought we deserve the 1-seed. W took the 1-seed and won the Shore so we have high confidence that we are going to bring into states.”

“We’ll celebrate tonight, but right back to work next week,” Goldin said. 

“We will hit the ground running after a little bit of rest,” Zullo said. “We will keep this style of play going right through states.”

Rumson-Fair Haven received the four-seed in the Public C bracket and will await their second-round opponent next Friday at The Red Bank Armory.

Scoring
RFH 1-0 Max Nicholson (Brett Pritchard) 12:38 1st
RFH 2-0 Sam Catalano (Jack Whitelaw) 10:39 1st
RFH 3-0 Rowan Goldin (Sam Catalano, Jack Whitelaw) 7:45 1st
RFH 4-0 Jack Whitelaw (unassisted) 5:11 1st
RFH 5-0 Sam Catalano (Rowan Goldin, Spencer Hobson) 11:23 2nd
RFH 6-0 Charlie Tallman (Ryan Croddick, Andrew Schmidt) 8:38 2nd
RFH 7-0 Sam Catalano (Jack Whitelaw) 5:30 2nd
MTS 7-1 Andreas Forand (Nate Block, Demitri Forand) 50.1 2nd
RFH 8-1 Brett Pritchard (Charlie Tallman) 12:21 3rd
MTS 8-2 Andreas Forand (unassisted) 10:00 3rd
RFH 9-2 Brett Pritchard (Ryan Croddick, Rowan Goldin) 5:17 3rd
MTS 9-3 Nate Block (unassisted) 2:02 3rd

 

Written by Casey Krish  @CaseyKrish 

Special to HockeyClan

 

Photos by Tom Smith  @TSPImages / TSPSportsimages

 

Main Image: Rumson-Fair Haven celebrates with the Handchen Cup after defeating Middletown South, 9-3, in the cup final at Jersey Shore Arena, Wall Township, NJ.  2/20/20. (Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)

 

SHORE CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT CHAMPIONS

2015-Red Bank Catholic
2014-Red Bank Catholic

HANDCHEN CUP CHAMPIONS

2019-St. John Vianney — GAME STORY
2018-St. John Vianney — GAME STORY
2017-Jackson Memorial
2016-Middletown North
2013-St. John Vianney
2012-Brick Township-Middletown South co-champs
2011-Red Bank Catholic
2010-Middletown South
2009-Middletown South
2008-Red Bank Catholic
2007-St. Augustine
2006-St. Augustine
2005-Bishop Eustace
2004-Bishop Eustace
2003-Brick Memorial
2002-Red Bank Catholic
2001-Brick Memorial
2000-Paramus
1999-Ridgewood
1998-Old Bridge
1997-Toms River East
1996-Cranford
1995-Clifton
1994-Hudson Catholic
1993-Indian Hills
1992-Montclair Kimberley
1991-St. Joseph, Metuchen
1990-Clifton
1989-Clifton
1988-Hudson Catholic
1987-Hudson Catholic
1986-St. Peter’s Prep

DOWD CUP CHAMPIONS

2019-Manasquan — GAME STORY
2018-Manasquan — GAME STORY
2017-Wall
2016-Southern Regional
2013-Brick​
2012-Rumson-Fair Haven
2011-Marlboro
2010-Toms River South
2009-Howell
2008-Manasquan
2007-Middletown North
2006-Old Bridge
2005-Red Bank Catholic
2004-Middletown North
2003-Montgomery
2002-Middletown North

 

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