Shore Conference Shootout! Americans Edge Nationals in 5th Annual Auriemma Senior Showcase

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TOMS RIVER, NJ — With three players still in contention for the cup, the Shore Conference is well-represented in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Forty-two players from 25 teams in Monmouth and Ocean Counties were on hand as the next generation of talent represented at the 5th annual Bob Auriemma Shore Conference Senior Showcase at Winding River Rink in Toms River.

But after 14 goals in regulation and a scoreless sudden-death overtime didn’t decide it, Nick LaBianca’s goal in the shootout ensured his team would go out winners as the American Team defeated the National Team, 8-7, before several hundred in the benchmark event which has become a staple capping the ice hockey season down the Shore.

LaBianca, with 96 goals and 206 points during a standout career at Jackson Liberty, was the only one among six would-be goal scorers to send the Americans home with the shootout victory.

“Going into the shootout was pretty nerve-wracking. I asked a couple of the boys, ‘Should I shoot or deke?,’” LaBianca said. “I decided to deke, made a good quick move and put it in the net against a very good goalie. It was a great feeling and I couldn’t be more happy to help the team get the victory.”

(Mark Carosiello/HockeyClan)

“In the last couple seconds of the game the other team was all over us, we fought hard but they ended up getting a lucky bounce and scored (to force overtime),” LaBianca, who will continue his career at Slippery Rock University, said. “No one on the bench was fazed though, everyone was still determined to win. Playing with all the seniors one last time was something I will never forget.”

Brick Memorial’s Thomas Swartwout broke the ice in a scoreless tie 11:37 into the action with assists from John Gutt (St. John Vianney) and Nick Swain (Jackson Memorial) as the Nationals carried a 1-0 lead into the first intermission before giving way to a nine-goal second-period flurry which knotted the game up, 5-5, after two periods of play.

Swain doubled the Nationals’ lead just 2:29 into the second period from Gutt and Aidan Zielaznicki (Point Pleasant Boro), but LaBianca, who finished with four goals and an assist, scored twice in a span of 46 seconds to quickly tie the game back up, 2-2. Michael Hannigan (Middletown South) and Aidan Tolnai (Manasquan-Point Pleasant Beach) connected again 1:24 apart to give the Americans a 4-2 lead, but Josh Scharf (Christian Brothers Academy) cut the deficit to one with 4:33 left in the second period.

(Mark Carosiello/HockeyClan)

After Garett Silverman (Christian Brothers Academy) put the Americans back up by a score of 5-3, Gutt, with 57 goals and 144 points at St. John Vianney, added two more memorable markers over the final 2:18 of the second period — the second of which came with 11 seconds left, tied the game, 5-5, heading into the third period.

“The second period was a back-and-forth game,” Gutt said. “We were up 2-0 then they scored four unanswered goals. Then we came back with a goal and then the next shift they scored again to make it 5-3. Point Pleasant Boro coach Steve Plancey looked at me with 2:30 left in the period and said, “Tie this thing up.”

I got a great pass from Eddie Coyne (Point Plesant Boro) to make it 5-4 and we had all the momentum,” Gutt said. “Then there was a scramble in front of the net and I had the puck on my backhand. I went to pass it to Swain but turned and shot. It went off the goalie and in. We were just all so happy to tie this game up.”

Nick LaBianca scored four goals and assisted on a fifth as the Americans edged the Nationals, 8-7, in a shootout at the 5th annual Auriemma Senior Showcase at Winding River Rink in Toms River on May 5, 2019. (Mark Carosiello/HockeyClan)

After LaBianca and Anthony Tavares (Middletown North) exchanged goals, the game remained a deadlocked 6-6 tie as overtime loomed late into the waning moments of the third frame. Tolnai scored what many thought would be the game-winner with 1:46 remaining in regulation with assists from Bobby Seelinger (Wall Township) and Dylan Haar (Ocean Township), but once again Gutt went back into action during crunch time.

(Mark Carosiello/HockeyClan)

Down 7-6, Gutt and Swartwout worked the puck over to Zielaznicki who made no mistake tying the game back up at 7-7 with just 14 ticks left on the clock to force overtime.

“The game-tying goal was crazy,” Gutt recalled. “We had a faceoff in the zone, I won it forward and everyone was hacking at it. Swartwout came in and scooped it up and passed it out to Aidan Zielaznicki. He shot it on the ice and it went off the post and in — we just celebrated like we just won a championship.”

In overtime, both goaltenders stood tall denying the opposition at every turn. The stonewalling continued into the shootout where only LaBianca was able to solve the equation and find the back of the net. But with 15 goals scored, including several timely ones to keep it going, fans and players alike got more than their money’s worth at the 5th annual Shore Conference Senior Showcase.

“Going into the game I wasn’t sure what to expect. There was a lot of good players on both teams who not only play high school hockey, but on very good travel teams as well,” LaBianca said. “I could have never guessed I was going to put up as many points as I had. I couldn’t have done it without my linemates, though. Fortunately, I’ve played with Tolani and Haar before on my Jersey Shore Whalers team. Both of them set me up numerous times in the game. We work very well together.

(Mark Carosiello/HockeyClan)

“We couldn’t have done all of what we have accomplished without our coaches and people covering high school hockey like HockeyClan making every game even more exciting,” LaBianca said.

Logan Beattie (Wall Township), Jake Brown (Christian Brothers) and Mike Ottone (Freehold Township) shared goaltending duties for the American team. Adam Bloodgood (Middletown South), (Jeremy Connor (St. John Vianney) and John Meyer (Point Pleasant Boro) tended the cage for the Nationals.

“Funny, when you go to overtime and a shootout you really can’t go wrong,” American Team and Wall Township coach Mike Dianora said. “Always a great honor to coach an all-star game, but a senior game is special as this group of seniors are not only great players but amazing young men.

“It is awesome to sit back and watch on the bench. The speed and passing, lots of unselfishness out there and some great goaltending,” Dianora said. “Personally, I loved being out there with Logan Beattie and Bobby Seelinger one more time — they were great soldiers for our program.”

(Mark Carosiello/HockeyClan)

Freehold Township coach Mike Celano, who tirelessly donates all his time and effort to growing the sport of ice hockey, was thrilled with yet another successful event honoring long-time Brick high school hockey coach Bob Auriemma. With 729-career victories in a 54-year coaching career that began in 1966, Auriemma is the third-winningest high school hockey coach in the United States leading Brick Township to NJSIAA titles in 1976, ’77, ’79, ’86, ’90 and ’97.

“We are proud we are able to host such an awesome event to give back to the players and families that have supported us over their careers,” Celano said. “Three-on-Three overtime then a shootout. Fast-paced game. This really is a great event every year. Of course, none of this would be possible without the support of our fantastic sponsors, Avon Pond, HockeyClan, Winding River Skating Center and the Toms River Blackhawks.”

Related: 4th Annual Auriemma Senior Shore Conference All-Star Game a Smashing Success

(Mark Carosiello/HockeyClan)

Who knows? Maybe the next Connor Clifton, Joakim Ryan or Trevor van Riemsdyk just played their last high school hockey game down the Shore. One thing is for certain: the future is as bright as the lights that shine down upon them.

Related: Shore Conference Honors Longest-Tenured Head Coach Bob Auriemma



Written by John Christian Hageny / @JCCSPORTS 

Special to HockeyClan


Photos by Mark Carosiello / @SnapThePicture6


(Mark Carosiello/HockeyClan)


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