By Warren Rappleyea
With the regular season winding down, Ocean Township High School’s ice hockey team has an opportunity to secure a berth in the NJSIAA Public A Tournament.
The Spartans are 9-10-2 following a 3-3 tie against Lawrence High School Jan 26. Ocean Township was slated to play Fair Lawn High School (4-9) and Central Regional High School Feb. 2 prior to the Feb. 3 cutoff date to qualify. Teams must be at .500 or better to earn a berth.
“If you would have told me back in September before the season started that we would be within striking distance of the state tournament at the end of January, I would’ve taken that,” Ocean Township coach Dave Smith said. “I’m very proud of how far this team has come.”
Things were certainly not looking rosy at the beginning of the fall. The Spartans had no goaltender and had lost several key players to graduation. The good news was that three goalies showed up at tryouts. None of them, however, had any varsity experience.
Ocean Township sputtered to a 1-3-1 start before bouncing back to win four of its next five games. Then the Spartans dropped four straight and the state tournament seemed to be well beyond the horizon for Smith’s crew when the Spartans were crushed 11-1 Jan. 5 by Freehold Township High School.
Then Ocean Township reeled off a pair of 7-0 victories over Lacy Township High School and Edison High School, respectively.
Against Lacey, Tom Stuppi scored two goals and picked up an assist, Richard Canneto had a goal and two assists and Evan La Valle earned the shutout.
Ian Hendrickson’s two goals and two assists and three assists by Dylan Haar helped the Spartans best Edison. Alexi Laughlin contributed a goal and two assists. Sean Harrington, who has now become Ocean Township’s No. 1 goalie, earned his first career shutout.
Haar’s two goals and a four-assist effort by freshman defenseman Scott Sirianni paced Ocean Township to a 6-2 victory against West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South Jan. 16. After a 3-0 loss at Hopewell Valley Central High School two days later, Smith’s team came back to down Freehold High School, 9-4, Jan. 19 thanks to a six-goal outburst in the third period. Haar’s hat trick led the offense. That put Ocean Township at 9-9-1 for the year.
With a chance to go over the .500 mark, Ocean Township fell, 6-5, to Marlboro High School Jan. 24, despite a two-goal effort by Joe La Valle. The Spartans dropped a 4-3 decision earlier in the year to Marlboro.
“Not winning one of the games against Marlboro was disappointing,” Smith said. “We match up well with them, but they came out on top both times. Either way, it’s up to us now. We have two difficult games, but I know our guys are going to come out hard.”
With the season on the line, Smith will look to Hendrickson and Haar — both of whom have surpassed the 20-goal mark on the season — to create offense. Joe La Valle is also approaching the 20-goal plateau.
Defensively, the Spartans have relied heavily on Hendrickson, fellow senior Michael Perri, sophomore Brendan Convery and Sirianni.
“Our top four defenseman log an unbelievable amount of minutes,” Smith said. “We rely on them a lot. Hendrickson and Perri have been great leaders, and Convery and Sirani have really stepped up for us.”