By Jeff Appelblatt
Freehold Township High School ice hockey coach Mike Celano couldn’t believe his team lost in the first round of the Handchen Cup.
Everything about that match with Howell High School indicated the Patriots should have won, including the fact that Freehold Township was the fourth seed and Howell was seeded 13th.
Things just didn’t go as expected, though, and Howell won the contest, 3-2.
“The Howell goalie, [Bobby Dovenero], played a great game and got very lucky in his performance,” Celano said a few days after the loss. “If we play that game 10 times, we beat them nine.
“We put 42 shots on him. They took only 16 [shots] but scored three times to our two.”
Despite the large number of shot attempts, Freehold Township just couldn’t get the puck passed Dovenero, who prevented more than 95 percent of shots fired his way from getting into the goal.
Only scoring twice was a unique feeling in itself for the Patriots. Including the loss to Howell, they failed to score at least three goals only twice — the other time during a Dec. 17 loss to Morris Knolls High School.
The Patriots, who entered the contest as one of the hottest teams on the ice, wasn’t going to let the loss get them down. They were already back on the ice a day later against Brick Memorial High School, and they won, 4-2. That victory took a third-period surge by Freehold Township, which entered the final period losing, 2-1.
Northeastern University-bound senior Julian Kislin led the way for the Patriots in the win. He scored twice and added an assist. Brendan Liebross scored the team’s other two goals, while Max Halvorsen, Tyler McNamara, Jacob Liebross and Victor Della Bella combined for six assists.
Freehold Township’s coach was happy his players bounced back as quickly as they did. That didn’t surprise him, though.
“In any sport, wins and losses happen. It is especially difficult in single-elimination tournaments,” Celano said. “[But] overall, our team has hit some pretty amazing accomplishments this season.
“This team is responsible for having the best record in township history with 16 wins, four losses and one tie. We went undefeated in our division and won our division championship outright.”
The Patriots still have a chance to make noise in a different playoff series. The state championships will begin Feb. 20. Celano plans on using the recent loss to motivate his team.
“We still have the state tournament. We are currently ranked fifth in Public A across the entire state,” the coach said. “The one game is a teaching point for me and motivation for them.”
As deep into the state tournament he’d like to see his team go, Freehold Township’s coach has already declared this season a great one.
“These kids have worked their hearts out,” Celano said. “It’s been a great season, and we won’t base it on a tournament loss.”
A tournament victory, on the other hand, would be the icing on the cake for Freehold Township’s nine seniors. As far as Celano and the younger players on the lineup are concerned, they’ll be thinking beyond this season.
“We will try to win in the postseason and build this program for the future,” the coach said.