By Wayne Witkowski
Middletown High School North’s ice hockey team is off to a 9-1-1 start and remains 4-0 at Middletown Ice World, but it has not been without some unexpected and wild turns of events for the defending NJSIAA Public B champions.
“Things are going well,” coach Matt Clemente said. “There are some high expectations from outside and from within.”
But it hasn’t always been a smooth ride meeting those expectations.
Games on Jan. 22 against Freehold Township High School and Jan. 24 against Brick Township High School were wiped out by the weekend snowstorm.
The game against Freehold Township, a Shore Conference A North Division opponent, must be rescheduled, but Clemente was skeptical about a new date with non-division opponent Brick Township, which is 5-5-3 coming into this week.
Middletown North last played Jan. 15 in a 4-4 tie at Montclair High School a late addition to the schedule in which the Lions missed three senior defensive starters and Clemente, who was in Florida for a wedding. Goalie Anthony Manfredi was out with an illness while defender Ryan Davidson was away with his club team and defender Kevin Tolan was on college visits. Sophomore Jake Frontera stepped into the goal and forward Vince Tomasetti, who earlier this season scored his 100th career point, moved back onto defense.
Kevin Felice had the hat trick. He has 15 goals, five behind team leader Khristian Acosta. Felice and freshman John Hallard gave Middletown North a 2-0 lead, and Montclair eventually rallied to tie it at 3-3. Felice scored what proved to be the tying goal for his team three minutes into the third period.
The next game is at home at 3:45 p.m. Jan. 29 against division opponent Manalapan High School (7-5-1), which is riding a three-game win streak.
Middletown North is 3-0-1 — with all three wins at home — since a 4-3 loss to Christian Brothers Academy (CBA) in which the Lions rallied from a 4-0 deficit with three goals in the third period.
“We actually played pretty decently, although we got off to a slow start,” Clemente said.
That game was played Jan. 4 — 18 days since the previous game before the holiday break Dec. 18 against Freehold Borough High School. The Lions were supposed to have a holiday tournament in between.
“Some teams dropped out and they wanted to keep it to eight teams, so since we came on board late as the ninth team, we were left out,” Clemente said.
Bob Hampton, a transfer from CBA to Middletown North last year who was a central figure to the Lions’ run to the state title, has been in and out of the lineup because of club team commitments that have taken him to showcases in places such as Chicago.
“We’ve been playing in spurts,” said Clemente. “We played good against Howell (a 6-5 victory Jan. 12). But we played sloppy defense that day. The effort needs to be more consistent on defense. On offense, we’ve handled our own.”
It’s no wonder that consistency is a goal with the erratic schedule.
After a Jan. 30 game at Freehold, Middletown North goes into a crucial stretch next week in two games at home when it has a rematch with CBA Feb. 2 and then plays Middletown South Feb. 5 in the Mayor’s Cup game.
Middletown North beat Middletown High School South, 4-3, Dec. 1. Tomasetti scored what proved to be the winning goal in the opening seconds of the third period. Middletown South’s Dan Berkowitz made it a one-game game when he scored with 18 seconds left off a pass from Robert Matthews.
Middletown South comes into the week 5-3-2, last playing Jan. 19 in a 6-4 victory over Ocean Township High School that ended a two-game slide. The Eagles are scheduled to play three games in four days this week. They were slated to play against Red Bank Regional High School at home Jan. 26 and at Manasquan High School Jan. 27. They play at St. Rose High School Jan. 29.
Clay Simonsen has been steady in goal and Gavin Gulash leads the scoring with 11 goals. Ryan Demilia and Deven Ralph follow with eight and six goals scored, respectively.