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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.”
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.”
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.
Rumson Fair Haven is your 2020 Handchen Cup Champions! The Bulldogs first @ShoreConfHockey title since the 2012 Dowd Cup. Congratulations to @RFHhockey #NJHockey #HandchenCup pic.twitter.com/A58F7w2G4m
— HockeyClan (@Hockey_Clan) February 21, 2020
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
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
2013-St. John Vianney
2012-Brick Township-Middletown South co-champs
2011-Red Bank Catholic
2008-Red Bank Catholic
2002-Red Bank Catholic
1997-Toms River East
1991-St. Joseph, Metuchen
1986-St. Peter’s Prep
DOWD CUP CHAMPIONS
2019-Manasquan — GAME STORY
2018-Manasquan — GAME STORY
2010-Toms River South
2005-Red Bank Catholic
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