Croddick’s OT goal lifts Bulldogs over Eagles in Dowd Cup final


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Two years ago, the Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School ice hockey team defeated Middletown South High School, 9-3, to win the Shore Conference Tournament Handchen Cup bracket.

On Feb. 17, the Bulldogs and the Eagles faced off at the Jersey Shore Arena in Wall Township with the Shore Conference Tournament Dowd Cup bracket championship on the line.

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The Handchen Cup has been in place since 1985 and is named for the late Hank Handchen, who was the first athletic director at Brick Township High School in 1958 and later served on the New Jersey High School Ice Hockey Committee.

The Dowd Cup became part of the Shore Conference Tournament in 2002 and is named for Brick Township High School graduate and former NHL player Jim Dowd.

Since 2008, the Dowd Cup and the Handchen Cup have been part of the Shore Conference Tournament. The top 16 teams in the conference qualify for the tournament and are divided into two eight-team brackets.

In the 2022 Dowd Cup final, sophomore Andrew Croddick became the hero for Rumson-Fair Haven as he scored in sudden death overtime to propel the Bulldogs to a 2-1 victory over Middletown South.

“It feels amazing,” Croddick said after scoring the game-winning goal. “We have a good team this year. Last year, we didn’t get to have a Shore Conference Tournament (due to the coronavirus pandemic), so we had to win it this year.”

Two championships in three years symbolizes the success third-year coach Eric Zullo and the Bulldogs have had on the ice.

Rumson-Fair Haven is 38-7-7 since Zullo took the reins of the program.

“It’s a program victory and it means a lot to us,” Zullo said about winning the Dowd Cup. “We went 10-0-2 last year and there was nothing for us to win and we were so good. To win this (championship) means the world to our seniors and the guys last year who are no longer with us.”

In the Dowd Cup final, Rumson-Fair Haven (12-4-2) took a 1-0 lead with under 1:00 to play in the first period.

Senior Connor Spagnuola won a face-off in the attacking zone and barreled his way toward the net where he poked a shot that hit the stick of a Middletown South player. The puck ricocheted past goalie Jack Collings and into the back of the net.

Rumson-Fair Haven held the lead until the Eagles scored with 3:19 to play in the second period. Sophomore Justin Ferlanti scored with an assist from Brandon Gronau to tie the score at 1-1.

Rumson-Fair Haven junior goalie Ryan Kuras did not let the goal affect his play and he did not allow another puck to get past him. Kuras finished the game with 22 saves to collect his ninth win in net.

“Words can’t even describe how amazing it feels right now,” Kuras said after the victory. “It was a great all-around team game. I thought my defensemen did a good job of letting me see the puck and that helped me save those outside shots.”

Neither team scored in the third period. The Bulldogs had a chance with :15 to play, but Collings denied Croddick’s attempt to win the game by coming up with a save that sent the teams to overtime.

Collings finished the game with 37 saves.

In overtime, the Eagles were whistled for a penalty. Six minutes into the period, with the Bulldogs on a power play, Croddick picked up a loose puck behind the Middletown South net, circled to the front and found an open lane to flick a shot over Collings’ stick and into the net to secure the 2-1 victory and the Dowd Cup. It was Croddick’s first game-winning goal.

“I just went to the net and wished for the best,” Croddick said. “We came out strong in overtime. I just shoved the puck and it went over the goalie and into the net. It felt amazing. Since I was little, I always dreamed of playing high school hockey and winning a conference championship someday.”

Croddick remembers watching his brother, Ryan, help the Bulldogs win the Handchen Cup two years ago.

Rumson-Fair Haven is the No. 2 seed in the NJSIAA Public B state tournament and will host No. 15 seed Ramsey in the first round on Feb. 24.

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