Postseason action is in full swing on the ice and Coach Don Wood and his Middletown North High School hockey team have made the most of it so far. The Lions have been playing what the coach described as “complete hockey” over the last few weeks.
The Lions’ run started when they defeated Middletown South High School, 5-1, to win the Mayor’s Cup.
The team kept winning and on Feb. 17 the Lions faced off against Saint John Vianney High School of Holmdel in the championship game of the Shore Conference Tournament Handchen Cup bracket.
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 Handchen Cup final, No. 2 seed Middletown North defeated No. 1 seed Saint John Vianney, 2-1, at the Jersey Shore Arena in Wall Township to win its first Handchen Cup since 2016.
“The guys really enjoyed playing in the tournament after not having it last year” because of the coronavirus pandemic, Wood said. “Our win against Middletown South (in the Mayor’s Cup) propelled us to make a deep run and win this (Handchen Cup) championship. These kids have bought into everything we have wanted this last month of the season.”
Senior Colin DeLanzo was the hero for Middletown North in the Handchen Cup final as he scored the go-ahead goal for the Lions with 7:55 left in the third period. DeLanzo leads the team with 21 goals and has added six assists.
DeLanzo’s goal shifted the momentum in the game as the Lancers had tied the score at 1-1 several minutes earlier on a goal by Alec Osher.
Junior Andrew Gross scored the game’s first goal in the second period to put the Lions ahead, 1-0. Gross leads the Lions in total points (34) with 10 goals and 24 assists.
Middletown North held off the Lancers for the remainder of the third period to claim the title. Junior goaltender Luke Chrzan made 24 saves to keep the Lions in the driver’s seat.
The teams met on Jan. 20 and Saint John Vianney came away with a 3-0 victory.
Wood said that loss was fresh in the minds of the Lions heading into the Handchen Cup final. He said the players understood what they needed to do to make sure that type of game would not happen again.
In the end, the Lions did what needed to be done as they won the program’s fifth Shore Conference championship (three Dowd Cup titles and two Handchen Cup titles).
“It’s nice anytime you win a Shore Conference championship,” Wood said. “These guys wanted to build their own legacy. They all know the history of our program and that we expect to compete for a Shore Conference title and a state title each year.”
The Lions began the 2021-22 campaign with a 9-2-1 mark. The team hit a speed bump and lost four straight games to fall to 9-6-1.
Since winning the Mayor’s Cup, Middletown North is 4-1 in its last five games and currently stands at 13-7-1 heading into the state tournament.
Wood said the team’s depth is paying off down the stretch. Middletown North is expected to get a boost on defense with senior Charles Timmes returning during the state tournament.
“We have had more depth this season than we have had in years past. We have had a lot of underclassmen step up this season,” Wood said.
Senior Jace Koenigsmark has played well, contributing 23 assists and scoring eight goals.
Sophomores Ryan Cook, Joseph Wall and Jack Turner have all made contributions to the team’s success. Wall has recorded nine goals and nine assists; Cook has contributed eight goals and nine assists; Turner has added seven goals and four assists.
Middletown North is the No. 6 seed in the NJSIAA Public B state sectional tournament and will host Wall High School of Wall Township in the first round on Feb. 22. The bracket features Rumson-Fair Haven, Ramapo, Northern Highlands and Summit.
Wood believes any team has a shot at winning the Public B bracket and believes his team has what it takes to make a run at winning the program’s second state championship.
“It’s a strong bracket from top to bottom. I would not be surprised if anyone won. Hopefully we can make a solid run. It should be a good state tournament,” the coach said.