cup finals, part I

February 24, 2006 on 11:44 pm | In game recap | Comments Off on cup finals, part I

I picked the two NBIAL games tonight and apparently missed a classic MCT final and some other excellent games, so I’ll do what I can to catch everybody up. I’m still not sure whether I’m going to the Gordon Cup or the Mennen Cup tomorrow.

Seedings and standings held at the Ice Vault, as the Ramapo/Indian Hills school district swept the NBIAL championships … not that there was a trophy or anything remotely cool like that on hand. The NBIAL athletic directors have some serious work to do.

NBIAL Div. I Final: Ramapo 7, Fair Lawn 1
This was a strange game. Ramapo came in as the obvious favorite, sporting a 16-1-1 league record and two regular-season wins over Fair Lawn, but the Cutters were in really good position for the upset for the first 20 minutes of the game. Fair Lawn opened in a 1-1-3 trap and was content to take four icing whistles in the first five minutes. Ramapo still had the better of play and opened the scoring midway through the period on a pile-up at the net. Chris Martin jabbed home the puck at the back post before the whistle blew, although Cutter coach Cory Robinson was unhappy that the goal was not signaled until after the whistle. Despite the deficit, Fair Lawn was executing its gameplan, with the exception of its attempts to spring Gabe Capozzi for a breakaway. Capozzi, who sat on the red line as the central defenseman in the trap, got one breakaway chance but was stoned by Ramapo’s Dan Menken with 5:14 remaining in the period. Despite an apparent size disadvantage, the Green Raiders were especially dangerous down low and on rebounds. Still, Fair Lawn’s Dan Ivanir held out with nine saves in the first period.

Fair Lawn enjoyed its best stretch of play to open the second period, and Capozzi fired a shot off the post just two minutes in after sustained pressure. Menken had to make eight saves in the first three minutes of the period to maintain Ramapo’s 1-0 lead. The Green Raiders then exploded for four goals in a five-minute stretch in the middle of the period to essentially put the game away. Third-line forward Alan Radvinsky scored twice, once on a rebound and once on a deflection, and defensemen Matt Pecoraro and Eric Maguire each added goals.

Fair Lawn tried to adjust its forecheck and play a more physical game but never mounted much of a threat. Steve Drummond scored on a power-play rebound 24 seconds into the third period, but Ramapo came right back 38 seconds later when Zander Pindyck deflected in a point shot. Robbie Sorrenti sealed the win with 4:25 remaining. Despite the lopsided score, Menken might have been the game’s biggest factor, stopping 29 of 30 shots. Ramapo, which lost in overtime to Wayne Hills in last year’s final, reached the 20-win plateau after two consecutive losing seasons.

NBIAL Div. II Final: Indian Hills 3, Ramsey 2
Not to bash the first game, but the nightcap was really a lot better. The crowd was much larger and featured a standing, vocal Ramsey cheering section. The game was a lot closer and felt tense throughout, producing some serious emotions at the final whistle. Ramsey and Indian Hills split a pair of 6-4 decisions this year, including Indian Hills’ only loss in two seasons of NBIAL play.

Based on reputation, one might have expected Indian Hills to dominate territorially, with Ramsey most dangerous in transition. The first two periods ended up being exactly the opposite. Ramsey controlled play throughout the first period but fell behind 2-0 on a pair of sucker-punch goals. The most important came just 2:30 into the game, with Indian Hills changing, as first-line forward Brad Montalbano fired a shot from the right wing that Ramsey’s Chris Clifford saved, but second-line center Anthony LaGrega was on hand to fend off defenseman Pat Nerney and tap in the rebound. The Braves went up 2-0 against the run of play five minutes later, as Ryan Larkin caught Clifford by surprise with a near-post snap shot from the left circle. Both teams struggled to get shifts for their third lines, and Ramsey’s forecheck consistently limited Indian Hills’ breakout.

The Rams stepped up the pressure in the second period, and only brilliant early play from Indian Hills’ Anthony Tabbacchino, who did not have his best game in the 6-4 loss to Ramsey earlier in the year, kept it a 2-0 game. Ramsey coach Gerry Iannuzzi, as usual, relied on his first line of Casey Mignone and the Zaentz brothers, Derek and David, for a ton of ice time. Mignone took three consecutive shifts at one point and managed to fire a shot off the post before dragging himself to the bench. His next shift, however, yielded the first goal. Forechecking on the penalty kill, Mignone stole the puck behind the net and quickly fed Derek Zaentz in the slot for a one-timer through the legs of Tabbacchino to make it 2-1. My favorite part of the goal was that Mignone somehow convinced the referees to give two assists on the play. Not the only time that happened in the game, either. Tabbacchino recovered to post 11 saves in the period, holding the 2-1 advantge into the third period.

Indian Hills coach Phil Murphy credited a change in defensive-zone coverage and breakout for his team’s third-period success, and the Braves did turn the tables with a 7-3 shot advantage. Their second line, in particular, enjoyed a great night by scoring all three goals and dominating Ramsey’s second and third lines when given the opportunity. The back-breaking goal, while forced under pressure, was a gift. Larkin gloved an ill-advised breakout pass across the high slot and ripped a slap shot that LaGrega redirected past a helpless Clifford for a 3-1 advantage. Mignone pulled his team off the floor and back into the game, however, when he fired in the rebound of a good point shot from Joe Warner to make it 3-2.

Ramsey pushed forward in the final minutes but narrowly escaped giving up a fourth goal, as Clifford stopped Bryan Thompson on a breakaway, and the whistle blew before Montalbano popped in the rebound. The exhausted Rams could not even find a shot in the last minute when attacking six-on-five, and Indian Hills claimed its second straight Division II championship.

I wrote about it last time, but the post-game handshake line was again poignant. Ramsey’s Nerney hugged probably half of the Indian Hills players, and I’m talking two-arms-and-pat hugs, not just man-hugs. Murphy took extra time in talking with Nerney and the inconsolable Mignone, while several of the top players from both teams stayed on the ice after the game talking. It wasn’t the victors lingering on the ice to celebrate (there was no trophy, after all); rather, it was friends lingering because they didn’t want their time to end.

For all the great matchups that a state-wide league like the NJIHL produces, I will always be drawn to the three county leagues because of the sense of history in the MCSSIHL and CVC and the sense of community in all three. There are people there that care about the league and all the teams in it, not just their kid’s school. More than in other leagues, these players and coaches have faced each other for years – Murphy hearkened back to several Ramsey players in fifth grade – and the respect (or animosity) between rivals truly deepens over those years. When I write the definitive history of New Jersey high school hockey, I think most of the best stories will come from veteran coaches and fans sitting around the fire at Mercer County Rink or sitting together in the unofficial ‘neutral’ sections at Mennen Arena or talking in the snack bar during warmups at the Ice Vault.

Ramapo 7, Fair Lawn 1


FL   0 0 1 1
Rmpo 1 4 2 7


FL   7 13 10 30
Rmpo 10 10 8 28

7:58 Rmpo #11 Chris Martin (#3 Alan Radvinsky, #20 Mike Walsh)
5:52 Rmpo #3 Alan Radvinsky (#4 Bill Griffith, #11 Chris Martin)
7:43 Rmpo #3 Alan Radvinsky (#21 Eric Maguire, #11 Chris Martin)
9:35 Rmpo #5 Matt Pecoraro (#14 Brian Ix)
10:55 Rmpo #21 Eric Maguire (#10 Zander Pindyck)
0:24 FL (pp) #21 Steve Drummond (#18 Gabe Capozzi, #22 Jason Eccles)
1:02 Rmpo #10 Zander Pindyck (#5 Matt Pecoraro, #28 Robbie Sorrenti)
10:35 Rmpo #28 Robbie Sorrenti (#10 Zander Pindyck)

#30 Dan Ivanir (FL) 28-21
#30 Dan Menken (Rmpo) 30-29

Power plays: FL 1-2, Rmpo 0-0

Indian Hills 3, Ramsey 2


Rmsy 0 1 1 2
IH   2 0 1 3


Rmsy 11 12  3 26
IH   8 6  7 21

2:30 IH #28 Anthony LaGrega (#22 Brad Montalbano, #16 Greg Moss)
7:19 IH #44 Ryan Larkin (#11 Tim Aberle, #23 Kevin Coneys)
8:03 Rmsy (sh) #12 Derek Zaentz (#91 Casey Mignone)
7:21 IH #28 Anthony LaGrega (#44 Ryan Larkin, #17 Perry Clarkson)
9:49 Rmsy #91 Casey Mignone (#18 Joe Warner, #22 Pat Nerney)

#30 Chris Clifford (Rmsy) 21-18
#38 Anthony Tabbacchino (IH) 26-24

Power plays: Rmsy 0-1, IH 0-1

MCT Final: Steinert 4, Notre Dame 3 (OT)
Speaking of county leagues, Steinert claimed its first ever Mercer County Tournament title with a 4-3 overtime win over Notre Dame Friday. The Irish, who beat Steinert 9-0 last Friday in the Titans Cup final, lost in overtime for the second consecutive year.

Man, we really should all get lives. It’s Friday night, yet here I am posting details that had to be emailed to me two and three times. Oh well. Credit Steinert head coach Bill James with the details on this one. In what sounds like a pretty classic MCT final, Steinert broke a 1-1 tie with two third-period goals, the second coming with 2:38 left, for an apparently insurmountable 3-1 lead. Notre Dame responded in just 17 seconds, however, to make it 3-2, and Adam Shemansky struck on a breakaway with 1:47 remaining (2 ND goals in 24 seconds) to tie the game 3-3. In overtime, Spartan forwards Gil Schaffer and Mitch Wien combined for the winner, with Wien firing home to give Steinert the championship.

Wien finished with 2-8-10 in Steinert’s three MCT games this week, while Schaffer was 10-2-12. Notre Dame held a 29-27 shot advantage in the game, which means Alex Toth of Steinert made 26 saves and Brandon Delibero of Notre Dame stopped 23 shots. Steinert won the season series from Notre Dame, 2-1-1, and won the Colonial Division and Mercer County Tournament titles, with Notre Dame taking the Titans Cup. Steinert (21-2-2) will open state tournament play against either Wall or Lawrence, while Notre Dame (15-5-3) will face St. John Vianney.

Other action
Props to St. Augustine Prep for getting of the schnide (anyone know how to spell that? schneid?) with a 5-2 win over Bishop Eustace in the Handchen Cup final, denying the Crusaders a fourth consecutive title and finally solving Eustace goalie Colin Saltiel. Glen Rock won the Northern Blue title in overtime, while Hillsborough breezed to a 7-0 win in the Kelly Cup final. Also, a shout-out to everybody scheduling impromptu state tournament warmups this week. Pingry and Westfield played today, and Delbarton has picked up two games next week, and there are at least six other games this week that are not state tournament games.

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