Lions skate past Monroe Township; gear up for conference tournament


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The Middletown North High School hockey team is finding its stride on the ice with the 2022-23 postseason on the horizon.

After starting the season 0-3, the Lions have reversed their fortunes and improved to 6-4-4 with a 6-5 victory over a 10-win Monroe Township High School squad on Jan. 20 at the Jersey Shore Arena in Wall Township.

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“Any win at this time of the season is huge, especially when you are hovering around .500,” Coach Don Wood said after the Lions’ victory over the Falcons. “Credit to Monroe. They kept coming at us all night.”

The Lions took a 5-4 lead into the third period, but saw the Falcons tie the score 5-5 when Nickolas Izzo netted his third goal with 9:37 to play.

Launching the Lions back into the lead with 5:33 to play was senior Thomas Baron.

During a scrum in front of the Monroe net, Baron found the loose puck and slapped it past goalie William Burkshot to give Middletown North a 6-5 lead.

“It felt really good,” Baron said of his go-ahead goal. “It was tied there at the end and I knew we needed (a goal), so I just went right to the net and got a (shot).”

Senior goalie Luke Chrzan (26 saves) and the Lions’ defense held off the Falcons during the final 5:00 to secure the team’s third win in its last five games.

Middletown North is 5-0-4 over its last nine games.

Junior Ryan Cook recorded his first hat trick in the victory. Cook leads the Lions with 10 goals and 11 assists, which are career highs.

“It’s great (recording a hat trick),” Cook said. “At the end of the day, this was a really big win for us and really helps us going down the stretch with a few games left.”

Middletown North senior Andrew Gross scored his eighth goal of the season and added two assists. Brendan Costello scored his first varsity goal in the win over the Falcons.

Middletown North’s current run of success shows anything is possible in terms of making a run in the Shore Conference Tournament and in the Public B state tournament, said Wood.

The fifth-year coach knows that after what he saw the Lions do during the 2021-22 postseason. The Lions won the Handchen Cup division in the Shore Conference Tournament and reached the Public B state tournament championship game.

“No one besides the guys in our locker thought we could go as far as we did last year,” Wood said. “We won 16 games and had a nice season. Anything is possible once you make it into the state tournament and the Shore Conference Tournament if you are playing your best hockey.”

To make a similar postseason run this season, Wood said the key will be how Chrzan and the defense play.

“With the postseason coming around, we want our guys to be playing their best hockey. That starts in our (defensive) zone and helping out our goaltender. We need everyone to be on the same page,” the coach said.

Middletown North has two big games this week. The Lions will play Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School on Jan. 23 and Christian Brothers Academy of Lincroft on Jan. 25.

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