The Monroe Township High School ice hockey team made it all the way to the championship game of the Greater Middlesex Conference Cup tournament last season, but it was unable to come away with the title.
This year, the Falcons finished the job.
Monroe, seeded fourth, faced second-seeded Colonia High School — which consists of players from Colonia, Woodbridge High School and John F. Kennedy Memorial High School of Iselin — in the finalsof this year’s GMC Cup tournament.
The Falcons took a 2-0 lead in the first period and traded goals with the Patriots in the third to skate away with a 3-1 victory and the title on Feb. 16 at The Arenas at Woodbridge.
Junior Matthew Skobelev got the scoring started with a power play goal at the 11-minute mark of the first period. Senior Michael Conover added a goal for the Falcons with 4:51 remaining in the period. After a scoreless second period, sophomore Anthony Zito extended the Falcons’ lead to 3-0 at 10:04 of the third.
Colonia broke up the shutout with 4:38 left in the game on a goal by senior Drew Galea.
Freshman Marino Lupo made 20 saves in the victory for Monroe.
Monroe also scored a gratifying victory in the semifinals. It shut out top-seeded Saint Joseph High School of Metuchen, 4-0, on Feb. 14 at The Arenas at Woodbridge. Saint Joseph defeated Monroe in last year’s GMC Cup championship game, 4-1, as well as in a game earlier this season on Dec. 13 by a score of 5-3.
Monroe’s upset of Saint Joseph in this year’s semifinals matchup can be directed to its freshman goalie.
“We pulled it off by playing overall good defense,” Lupo said after the game. “We played well in our zone. I think we surprised them because last time we played, they completely annihilated us. But today, we came out with an early goal in the game, which really surprised them. We were just able to hold onto it for the rest of the game and add more goals.”
Lupo, who ended with 43 saves in the shutout, was never rattled.
“I just tried to stay square with all the pucks,” he said. “I just try to stay focused before the game and during the action. I practice a lot, and you just hope that the things you practice translate out there in the game. Tonight, it did.”
Monroe, which had two goals each in the first and third periods, received goals from sophomore Jacob Bailey, junior Samuel Fishteyn, senior Michael Benedetti and Conover.
Lupo and his teammates relished the victory over Saint Joseph.
“We lost to Saint Joe’s, and we could never beat them,” Lupo said. “So this was, emotionally, a great win for us. This was our goal all year to beat them because we lost in the GMC finals to them last year.”
Monroe started off the GMC Cup tournament with a 10-3 victory over fifth-seeded Old Bridge High School on Feb. 12 at Jersey Shore Arena in Wall.
Monroe (14-8-1) earned the 10th seed in the NJSIAA Public A tournament and was scheduled to face seventh-seeded Hillsborough High School on Feb. 21.
In the loss, Saint Joseph’s streak of consecutive GMC Cup wins was ended at six.
Senior right wing Dylan Castello felt that the upset loss to Monroe will help the team going forward.
“Just like they upset us, we can upset a [Don] Bosco [Preparatory High School] or a Delbarton [School],” he said. “Hopefully, if we get to that point, we can upset them too.”
Castello recalled seeing some good moments from Saint Joseph against Monroe.
“I saw the heart from this team toward the end of the second period,” he said. “I thought we started playing well for a little bit there, but we kind of lost it in the end. Kudos to them. They were the better team tonight.”
Castello wants the Falcons to learn a lesson from the loss and not make the same mistakes going into their first game of the state tournament against The Frisch School. Saint Joseph (9-10-1), seeded 13th, was scheduled to play the school from Paramus, seeded 20th, in the first round of the Non-Public state tournament on Feb. 20.
“I believe with the loss we had [against Monroe], we can take that momentum and bring it into states,” Castello said.
“If we did what did tonight and look down upon [Frisch] since they’re a lower seed than us, then we’ll get beat. But if we come back strong after this loss, we can do some damage.”