Handchen Cup tie leaves Eagle hockey team empty

first_img Middletown High School South’s Nick Malvasi (far left) and Brick Township’s Brendan David (3) try to gain possession of a loose puck during the Handchen Cup final played Feb. 25 at the Red Bank Armory. The teams played to a 4-4 tie and are Cup co-champions. PHOTOS BY ERIC SUCAR staff Coming off a bittersweet 4-4 Shore Conference Handchen Cup championship tie with Brick Township on Feb. 25 at the Red Bank Armory, Middletown High School South’s hockey team immediately focused on its next goal when it played host to Mount Olive in the NJSIAA Tournament against on Feb. 28 at Jersey Shore Arena in Wall.Middletown South has moved back to the Non-Public A bracket from the B bracket this year and is seeded No. 5. Mount Olive is No. 28. Middletown South last year reached the Non-Public A finals, dropping a 7-3 verdict to Chatham to finish 15-8-3.But the team feels it needs a little redemption in that state tournament from the Handchen Cup. With top-seeded Middletown South (16-5-3) holding a 3-0 lead, settling for a tie for its third Handchen Cup in four years after coming into the game off an 11-0-2 run left it feeling short of its goal. Middletown High School South’s Jimmy Burns celebrates with his teammates after the Eagles scored a goal during the Handchen Cup final. “Can we bounce back? Absolutely,” coach Stanley Gutt said. “We took this one as a loss. This tie propelled us to enter the states with a meaner and angrier attitude to put teams away. We were up, 3-0, and didn’t do that. We gave them a second chance. We had a shot that looked like a fourth goal when we were up 3-0 go off the post, and if that went in, we would’ve been in great shape.”Middletown South played Brick Township with a healthy lineup for the first time this season, and that will help in the opening round and, if it wins that game, in the second round in Wall on March 1 against the winner of Marlboro vs. Westfield.It will be a high-pressure situation for a team that carries 13 seniors who have been around for the three Handchen Cup titles, including the first line of Tyler Ralph, Chris Connor and Zach England, the latter two leading the team in scoring. All five defensemen are seniors, led by Jim Burns, while Gutt said Matt Himmelberg also “has been playing great.”“We’ve been playing great on the power play,” Gutt said. “When we’re hustling on it and doing what we can, the power play can be deadly. We didn’t have many opportunities against Brick, and then we had Burns out for a 10-minute misconduct and we lost our quarterback for that.”During that stretch of injuries early in the season, Burns was out with Lyme disease and Ralph missed a long stretch with a concussion.But they’ve been back at full speed, and it appeared that Middletown South was on its way to another cup when it took a 3-0 lead on goals by defenseman Brian Walsh, Connor on a power play and defenseman Dan Wojcik. And Trevor Ralph was paying superbly in goal. He ended up with 44 saves. Brick pulled to 3-2 when England put in a rebound just 48 seconds later to push the lead to 4-2, but Tyler Martin tipped in a shot with 2:02 left in the second to get Brick (13- 5-4) to within 4-3. Brick’s David Kearns tied it with 3:39 left in the third period. It was the second time this season that Middletown South squandered a hefty lead, the other time a 5-1 edge against Freehold Township before the Eagles pulled out a 7- 6 victory.“If we’re down, we will come back,” Gutt said emphatically.But playing a five-minute overtime, as mandated by the Shore Conference, as opposed to the 15-minute overtime period in NJSIAA tournament games, left some fans feeling a need to see both teams in more time on the ice.Gutt was somewhat satisfied to leave with the tie.“They had a little more steam left than we did,” Gutt said. “They out-hustled us. They deserved to win.”Tyler Ralph felt differently.“I can’t believe this happened,” he said. “I wish it was a 15-minute overtime, because it was getting exciting and everybody was battling hard. I think we both deserved it, but there should have been a champion.”But Gutt and his players hope to get something more out of an up-and-down season in which the Eagles finished in second place in Shore Conference A Division by one point but also twice beat cross-town rival Middletown North, including once for the Mayor’s Cup.Despite the large number of seniors, Gutt spoke assuredly about the future with a junior varsity developing good talent for the future in a fine season and two junior defensemen who looked sharp early in the season, Cole Ditzel and Anthony Burtus — but both have been sidelined late in the season with injuries. BY WAYNE WITKOWSKI Correspondent Middletown H.S. South shares Cup with Brick Township after 4-4 tie last_img read more