WALL TOWNSHIP — After winning 17 games, St. John Vianney felt it didn’t get the recognition it deserved when the NJSIAA dealt the Holmdel school the eighth seed in the Non-Public State Tournament.
“We went into the locker room after practice that day and addressed the elephant in the room,” St. John Vianney coach Mick Messemer said. “I told the team to use it as fuel for the fire and motivation to take it out on the Shore Conference.”
Truth be told, St. John Vianney was less than thrilled with its seed in the state tournament and took its frustrations out in the Handchen Cup as John Gutt scored three goals and John Gelatt added two goals and three assists as the the top-seeded school in the Shore Conference Tournament erased a two-goal deficit with seven unanswered goals en route to a 7-2 triumph over fourth-seeded Middletown South at Jersey Shore Arena.
The triumph was St. John Vianney’s first Handchen Cup since 2013 and third cup overall after capturing the Van Cott title in 2000. After falling short to Wall in the final of the Dowd Cup last season, the victory was well-deserved.
“It feels amazing,” said Gutt, who tallied his 18th, 19th and 20th goals of the season. “We came out slow but we’ve had good third-periods this year. In the locker room tied 2-2 we kept telling ourselves, ‘Wake up. Let’s go. Get the first one,’ and just kept going. It’s revenge for a loss last year in the Dowd Cup. It feels great to win the Handchen Cup this year.”
“Hard work and dedication,” senior Joe Zani, who got the ball rolling with St. John Vianney’s first goal at 5:23 of the second period, said. “Both teams wanted it. It was a tie game but after we got our third and fourth it was like building blocks and we kept capitalizing.”
Despite outshooting and outplaying Middletown South in the first period, it was the Eagles which struck first when Nick Lioudakis found the back of the net with 21 seconds left in the first period. Middletown South doubled its lead when Deven Ralph made it 2-0 with 6:40 left in the second period but that only lit the fuse for the St. John Vianney comeback.
Zani broke through the Eagles’ defense and fired one past goalie Clay Simenson top corner to cut the deficit in half and Gutt tied it at 2-2 just 26 seconds later off the ensuing face-off.
“The goalie dropped, I had nowhere to go and just shot it on net and it went in,” Zani said. “I think it started the whole thing for us. We built off that and got the win.”
The back-to-back goals stunned Middletown South, which, despite being out-shot 18-16 after two, felt the game was theirs for the taking.
“We came out ready for them this game, ready for them and for two periods it was even, back-and-forth,” Lioudakis said. “We were fighting the whole time. It was a hard-fought game but it got away from us in the third with an avalanche of goals.”
Gelatt provided the go-ahead goal 1:10 into the third period on a fast break and Brett Schneider added an insurance goal 2:17 later as St. John Vianney took a 4-2 lead. Gutt scored his second of the game with 10:06 remaining in regulation before completing the hat trick with 1:42 left.
Deadlocked at two after two, the Lancers exploded for five goals in the third period.
“Last year we lost in the Dowd Cup so we had to get revenge this year. It feels great,” Gelatt said. “We had a lot of chances, we just needed to bury them. Once we started to relax and after we put that first one in by Joe Zani and John scored the shift right after it was a big momentum swing. In the third, we buried our chances.”
The cup is coach Messemer’s third after winning two as a player for Brick Memorial.
“I told the boys to do it for me,” Messemer said with a laugh. “They don’t owe me anything but this is the best present I could get. After we addressed the state tournament in the locker room we didn’t lose focus and outscored teams 25-2.
“Joe Zani’s goal — he was waiting, waiting for his chance and popped one in and got the crowd into it,” Messemer added. “For a senior to step up and do that he couldn’t have been more deserving. He’s been battling injuries all year.”
St. John Vianney, which received 20 saves from Jeremy Connor, extends its winning streak to five to stand 19-3-2 and sets its sights on ninth-seeded Pope John in the Non-Public State Tournament.
Middletown South drops to 14-5-2. The fifth-seeded Eagles in Public B await the winner of High Point/Wallkill Valley-Point Pleasant Boro/Manchester Township.
“St. John is a strong team and if you don’t execute everything the correct way, they have a very strong team and they’re going to make you pay for it,” Middletown South coach Tony Nemati said. “It was 2-2 and we liked our position heading into the third period but we got a little sloppy in our own end. With their talent and their speed they made us pay and once they got up they play a very disciplined, defensive system. Hats off to SJV — they played well.”
“Our season is not over,” Lioudakis said. “The only thing we can do is learn from this and take it into states. It’s unfortunate we couldn’t seal the deal but we had a good start.”
Written by John Christian Hageny / @JCCSPORTS
Special to HockeyClan
Main Image: St. John Vianney celebrates the 2018 Handchen Cup after defeating Middletown South in the tournament finale at Jersey Shore Arena in Wall Township on Feb. 15, 2018. (Tom Smith/TSPImages)
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