Saint John Vianney High School’s ice hockey team proved why it was seeded first overall in the Shore Conference Tournament when it scored convincing victories in all three rounds to capture the Handchen Cup.
The Lancers surrendered just two goals the entire tournament, including two shutouts, while netting 25 goals of their own for a dominant showing.
Saint John Vianney came back from a 2-0 deficit to Middletown High School South in the championship game on Feb. 15 at the Jersey Shore Arena in Wall Township to secure the title.
Junior John Gutt netted a hat trick and assisted on two goals, while junior John Gelatt posted six points between two goals and four assists to lead Saint John Vianney, which exploded for five goals in the third period after entering the frame tied, 2-2, with Middletown South.
The Lancers faced a stern opponent in goal when they met Red Bank Catholic (RBC) High School in the semifinals at Jersey Shore Arena on Feb. 13. However, Saint John Vianney managed to get the puck past him in a 4-0 victory.
“We knew we were facing a really good goaltender in Ciaran McNelis,” Saint John Vianney senior left wing Kevyn Rigatti said of the senior at RBC. “He played phenomenal the whole game through, and it was hard getting pucks by him. We knew we had to create some traffic in front of the net.”
Rigatti posted a hat trick to lead the Lancers’ effort against RBC and McNelis, who made 48 saves. Rigatti netted the first goal late in the second period, and he extended the Lancers’ lead to 2-0 two minutes into the third period. He capped his scoring for the game on an empty-netter with two minutes remaining. Gelatt also had a goal for the Lancers in the third period.
“It feels good,” Rigatti said. “I’m always trying to help my team as much as possible, so to get a hat trick against a great rival in RBC is a dream come true.”
Rigatti noted that Saint John Vianney’s offensive showing against a goalie like McNelis gave the team momentum heading into future contests.
The loss dropped RBC’s record to 9-11-3, but senior defenseman Jason Harper was still pleased with how the Caseys played, especially the effort by McNelis.
“Our goaltender stood on his head and played fantastic,” Harper said. “Our forwards got the puck out and had some really good chances. Obviously, we weren’t able to capitalize on them, but I think the boys played really hard today.”
Harper believed the game was a good learning experience for RBC.
“I think this is going to be a big learning lesson for us,” he said. “We need to come out strong in the third period. Just keep playing. Never let up.”
To advance to the game against RBC, Saint John Vianney posted a 14-0 victory over Central Regional High School in a balanced scoring effort. Twelve difference players posted goals for the Lancers in the first-round victory at Jersey Shore Arena on Feb. 7.
Saint John Vianney, which improved to 19-3-2 on the season with the Handchen Cup victory, moved on to the state tournament. The Lancers earned the eighth seed in the Non-Public bracket and were scheduled to face ninth-seeded Pope John XXIII Regional High School of Sparta on Feb. 22.