When the Howell-Matawan co-op ice hockey and the Monroe Township High School ice hockey teams met for the first time this season on Jan. 3 at the Jersey Shore Arena in Wall Township, the final score was 2-1 in favor of Monroe.
When two teams met again in the first round of the NJSIAA Public A Tournament on Feb. 28, the score again was 2-1, but this time in favor of the Rebels.
A game-winning goal by sophomore Mike Langella with 11:42 left to play propelled the 11th-seeded Rebels to a 2-1 upset victory over sixth-seeded Monroe at the Jersey Shore Arena to advance to the quarterfinals of the Public A state tournament.
“It was just an amazing feeling to put the puck in the back of the net and know that we were up 2-1,” Langella said. “You dream about it as a kid to get that game-winning goal to help your team send the other team home. It’s an amazing feeling and a goal I will never forget.”
Howell-Matawan struggled going into postseason play, going 0-2-3 in its last five games heading into its matchup up with Monroe.
It’s the first time since the 2014-2015 season since Howell has made it to the quarterfinals of the state tournament.
Despite their struggles, the Rebels came out ready to take control of the action and did so thanks to senior Dylan Kramer.
Kramer shot the Rebels to a 1-0 lead with 5:15 left to play in the first period, banging home his team-high 18th goal of the season of a nice pass from teammate James Fay.
The goal was even more special for Kramer, as it was his 100th career point.
“We just came up out ready to get our first playoff win of the year,” Kramer said. “James (Fay) saw me wide open, back door for the goal. (Hockey) is a game of bounces and we got them this time.”
Howell-Matawan held its one-goal lead until midway through the second period when Monroe’s top scorer, Gleb Veremyev racked up his 34th score of the winter to tie the game at 1-1.
A 1-1 tie going into the third period, both teams came out fast, each looking for that golden goal to take control of the contest with a spot in the quarterfinals on the line.
Howell-Matawan was able to get that go-ahead score just a little over three minutes into the period to take back control of the game.
Controlling the loose puck behind the net in the Monroe zone, junior Stanley Paluszek sent a perfect pass in front of the net to Langella speeding into the zone.
Once the puck hit his stick, Langella wristered a shot through the legs on Monroe goalie Marino Lupo and into the back of the net for his sixth goal of the season to put the Rebels back up one.
“I got a perfect pass from Stan (Paluszek) and I just put it in the back of the net,” Langella said. “We all played as a team and came through with the win.”
Senior goalie Dan McEvoy and the Howell-Matawan defense were able to hold off the Falcons the rest of the way to pull off the upset.
McEvoy was just outstanding in net, racking up 37 saves in the victory.
“Dan (McEvoy) has been a rock for us all season and he has kept us in every game this year,” said Howell-Matawan coach Bill Daley. “Defense wins games and we won this one because of it.”
The upset victory over Monroe is a sign in the eyes of Daley that Howell can make a deep run in the state tournament.
“We are a legit tight team that can make a deep run this year,” Daley said. “No one quits on each other. Everyone works hard for each other. Watch out! The Rebels are ready to go.”
Howell-Matawan now stands at 9-7-7 on the season.
The Rebels faced off against third-seeded Hunterdon Central Regional High School in the quarterfinals, which will be played on March 2 at Flemington Ice Arena.
Follow Steven Bassin on Twitter @SBassin_Sports