Eagles skate past Lions, 5-2, in 2022-23 hockey season opener

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MIDDLETOWN — For the second straight year, the Middletown South High School and Middletown North High School hockey teams opened their seasons with a rivalry showdown at the Middletown Sports Complex.

In a replay of the 2021-22 season opener, the Eagles of Middletown South began the new campaign with a triumph, defeating the rival Lions, 5-2, on Dec. 8.

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“We were ready to go right from the start,” Middletown South coach Andrew Rosenbloom said. “The guys have been looking forward to this game since last year. (This win) gives our guys a lot of confidence and shows what this team is capable of.”

Both teams have high expectations for 2022-23 following outstanding campaigns in 2021-22.

Middletown South was 14-6-5 a year ago and the Eagles are looking at a talent pool of veterans and newcomers to lead the way, Rosenbloom said.

Seniors Thomas Villano, Brandon Gronau, Houston Nicholas, Lucas Campo and Noah Schactman lead the returning players. Senior goaltender Zander Barquero and junior forwards Brendan Cavendish and Justin Ferlanti are first-year starters who are expected to make a big impact this season.

“This is one of the most cohesive groups I have seen,” Rosenbloom said. “They just work together as a team and it’s awesome to see.”

Middletown North was 16-8-1 a year ago and won the Handchen Cup during the Shore Conference Tournament. The Lions reached the finals of the NJSIAA Public B state tournament.

Coach Don Wood and his players are primed to build off that success with senior goaltender Luke Chrzan leading a group of veterans that includes defenseman Mike Botti, and forwards Andrew Gross, Ryan Cook, Joseph Wall and Jack Turner.

Aiden Thede and Matthew Turrisi are newcomers who are set to make an impact on the ice.

Thede had a brilliant first game against Middletown South as he scored both of the Lions’ goals during the first period.

“Every year, no matter who you bring back, the goal is to make it far in the state tournament and in the Shore Conference Tournament,” Wood said. “There is a lot of talent here. We are excited overall about our group.”

The Lions led 2-1 after the first period.

The Eagles fought back in the second period as Villano stepped up to provide a spark by scoring twice.

“Coach (Rosenbloom) always says to lead by example, so I was just trying to lead and help the guys get back in it to win,” Villano said.

The Eagles’ senior captain scored his first goal of the season three-and-a-half minutes into the second period as Middletown South drew even at 2-2.

With 3:42 to play in the period, Villano struck again as Middletown South took a 3-2 lead.

Villano’s second goal was set up by Gronau, who surged up the ice with the puck, carried it into the Middletown North zone and dished a perfect pass to Villano, who knocked in the go-ahead goal.

“You don’t get many opportunities in a game and I knew I had to do something with it,” Villano said of his second goal. “It felt great.”

The Eagles clamped down on the Lions’ offense in the third period and maintained their one-goal lead.

A key sequence in the period came when the Lions went on the power play with 6:59 to play. The Eagles did not allow the Lions to use the man advantage as they killed off the penalty.

“That (penalty) kill was huge. (Middletown North) has so much firepower. We really did a good job blocking shots and containing them,” Rosenbloom said.

Cavendish gave the Eagles some breathing room in the final minute with an empty net goal to make the score 4-2. Cavendish also scored in the first period to finish the season opener with two goals.

Gronau put a final stamp on the victory by scoring his first goal of the season with :17 to play for the 5-2 final.

In his first varsity start in net for the Eagles, Barquero recorded 25 saves to earn the victory. Chrzan made 25 saves in net for the Lions.

Middletown South is 1-1 after losing to Monroe Township High School, 4-0, on Dec. 9.

Middletown North will try to rebound from the loss to the Eagles when the Lions host Northern Highlands on Dec. 13.

Round Two of the hockey rivalry for Middletown North and Middletown South is scheduled for Feb. 2.

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