spotlight on Mennen

March 23, 2007 on 10:15 am | In analysis | 1 Comment

Well, y’all, today’s the day. The state finals at Mennen Arena, just like it used to be (except for the whole two-state-finals thing). I know it is a shame the players did not get to play at Continental again and that some fans may be shut out, but I also think the atmosphere at Mennen will be second only to a Delbarton-Seton Hall Prep game, and it may even top that. With such a small venue and two large public schools on hand, the first game ought to be absolutely rocking. Also, parking is going to be a nightmare. With separate crowds totaling 4,000, there is no way all the cars will be able to fit in the parking lot toward the end of the first game. Get there way early, and you may want to park in Morris Plains and make the long walk over. Now on to the games …

5:00 pm (3) Bridgewater-Raritan vs. (1) Randolph

The third-seeded Panthers knocked off Ridge to deny a championship-game matchup between the two most talented teams, but I expect it to be close anyway. Much of the pressure will fall on BR goalie Gary Biggs, who has been up to the task all year. I remember talking to Patrick Alvin when he wasn’t sure who would take over for Dave Kababik … Biggs has come a long way.

Common thought is that Randolph will outskate and outskill Bridgewater with its deep cast of forwards. That could happen, but Bridgewater has long been similar to Randolph – lots of fast but bland forwards without overwhelming puckhandling skills – with more size. I would guess Bridgewater will need to come out hitting to really put its stamp on the game.

In the end, I think Kyle Krannich (or some unknown third-line player, it really doesn’t matter) will find the net for Randolph and Dan Swenson will be on the bottom of a pile once again. But do not count out Bridgewater.

8:00 pm (5) St. Augustine Prep vs. (2) St. Peter’s Prep

This is a tough one. I’m tempted to jump on the St. Augustine Prep bandwagon. Anybody that can beat Seton Hall Prep and Delbarton back-to-back deserves major props and is obviously capable of winning this thing. It would be a major blow for South Jersey hockey, and St. Augustine Prep could become the first non-Gordon team to win the private title since Delbarton in 02 and the lowest seed ever to win a private title. St. Peter’s Prep was a 5 seed when it lost the 2004 final; Seton Hall Prep was a 6 seed when it lost the 1997 final. Bergen Catholic was seeded third in 2001, the lowest seed to win a private title.

All that said, something tells me this will be St. Peter’s Prep’s night. Another team that has gradually risen through the ranks just to get to the Gordon Conference and was a huge underdog in this same spot three years ago. I think the experience of Kevin Fox, Tim Miller and their boys and the skill of a player like Kyle Palmieri will make the difference. Remember James van Riemsdyk scoring the winner two years ago before going to make the national team … Palmieri has a chance to follow in his footsteps tonight.

Anyway, I hate predictions, and who am I to make them anyway? Go to the games tonight, scream yourselves hoarse, and have a blast. If you’re playing, take a moment during warmups to soak up the atmosphere. Look around during the national anthem. Then lock in and compete your hardest on the biggest stage yet. Good luck.

finals week

March 19, 2007 on 9:47 am | In game recap | 1 Comment

boy, this six days between games thing is kinda awkward, huh? Hopefully Mennen will be rocking to make up for it on Friday night.

I was filling in on Rice baseball broadcasts this weekend, so when I checked in late Saturday night, I was pretty surprised one of the hockey scores still wasn’t final. Must’ve been a crazy day. I enjoyed the quadruple-headers from back in the day when Mennen played at 4:15, 6:15, 8:15, and “9:45” on Saturday to avoid the NJSIAA’s rule that games could not be scheduled for a time that would project them to end after midnight. Guess that rule’s not too important anymore.

Sounds like an amazing day of hockey. Some controversial goals and some big performances but, most of all, close games! All four games sounded legit, two went to overtime, and we saw some upsets. Obviously, St. Augustine Prep and Bridgewater-Raritan deserve major props for knocking off the teams considered heavy favorites at the beginning of the year and, in the process, getting revenge on a rival (Ridge) and last year’s nemesis (Delbarton). I’m relatively familiar with all eight coaches in the semifinals, so I can legitimately say I’m happy for the winners – Rich McLaughlin I’ve known since I was 13, Patrick Alvin and Joe Maione I’ve met and emailed with for the last few years, and Tim Fingerhut I’ve talked to briefly this year about the Hermits’ schedules and whatnot – and empathetic for the losers – I’ve talked with Walt Keiper and Bruce Shatel a billion times over the past 10 years, and our rare meetings have still produced a ton of respect for Mike Reynolds and Tim Mullin.

That said, I wasn’t there, so here’s who was there and what they thought:

Randolph 2, Morris Knolls 1, OT:
Star-LedgerDaily Record 1 | Daily Record 2

St. Augustine Prep 3, Delbarton 2, OT:
Star-LedgerCourier Post | Daily Record 1 | Daily Record 2

Bridgewater-Raritan 4, Ridge 2:
Star-Ledger | Courier News

St. Peter’s Prep 2, CBA 0:
Star-Ledger | Asbury Park Press

Continental rescheduling

March 16, 2007 on 9:36 am | In breaking news | No Comments

The revised schedule for the semifinal and final rounds of the NJSIAA Tournaments:

Saturday, 17 March 2007, Continental Airlines Arena

4:30 p.m. (4) Morris Knolls vs. (1) Randolph
6:30 p.m. (5) St. Augustine Prep vs. (1) Delbarton
8:30 p.m. (3) Bridgewater-Raritan vs. (2) Ridge
10:30 p.m. (3) CBA vs. (2) St. Peter’s Prep

Friday, 23 March 2007, Mennen Arena

6:00 p.m. NJSIAA Public Final
8:00 p.m. NJSIAA Private Final

Previewing the quarterfinals

March 9, 2007 on 10:40 am | In analysis | 1 Comment

Alright, it’s quarterfinal time! All week, I’ve been telling anybody who will listen that these are my favorite games of the year. I like them better than the games at Continental because it still feels like high school hockey in the smaller rinks, and you get players and coaches from eliminated teams around the state coming to watch teams from their division.

March 9
Watchung Hills vs. Randolph
I saw the Warriors go down to Ridge in the SCT semis in December, and I saw Randolph play Delbarton in a preseason scrimmage. So this is the only game in which I can say I saw both teams play this year. Obviously, Randolph has the deeper cast of forwards and a lot more experience. WatHills has some talent and capable goaltending and owned Montgomery this year, but I don’t see it happening.

Randolph, 5-2

Fair Lawn vs. Morris Knolls
Gotta love this matchup of goaltending. Aside from Randolph, Knolls has only allowed four goals once this year. The Cutters have legit forwards in Travis Ritter and Jason Eccles and decent skaters around them. Colin Lemay was ridiculous in goal in the shootout win over Northern Highlands. Fair Lawn is the upset king and has played as many state tournament games in the last two years as Knolls has.
That said, Knolls is the favorite for a reason. Tommy Tomensky is more than a handful up front and has support in Justin Lewandowski and fresman Albert Abaunza. Steven Jones, Donnie Nichols, Scott Graham and Alex Clelland should be enough in front of the returned Ofner, who – when he’s on – is the toughest goalie to beat in the public bracket. I can’t see many ways around an all-Morris County semifinal.

Morris Knolls, 3-1

March 10
Hillsborough vs. Bridgewater-Raritan
I love this matchup as well, even though it pits teams from the same region. Hillsborough and Bridgewater tied 3-3 in the regular season. The Raiders are 10-0-3 since Jan. 16, while Bridgewater is 9-1-3 in the same span.
It’s really a tough one to call. Plus goalies on both sides, with Biggs and Visnovsky. In theory, Bridgewater has more forward depth, but Hillsborough probably has a little more skill. I say it goes to overtime, and I’m going to go with the underdog.

Hillsborough, 3-2 (OT)

Chatham vs. Ridge
Chatham went 1-7 from Jan. 16-Feb. 6 but has rebounded with the return of defenseman Jeff Tompson from injury. Since his return, Chatham has beaten Pingry (something no MCSSIHL team had done), tied Knolls and beat Westfield and Montgomery. Solid resume. But not enough to beat Ridge, which was the overwhelming favorite from day one until its slip-up against Randolph in February. Chatham was plenty competitive with Randolph, so I expect it to be a good game, but I think Andre Menard and company will be able to find the net.

Ridge, 4-1

March 11
Pope John vs. Delbarton
Delbarton beat Pope John 4-1 and 2-0 during the regular season and really should win this one. But the Green Wave has not been scoring as much lately, and Stephen Messina is pretty legit in goal for the Lions. Keep in mind that St. Augustine Prep was about 20 seconds away from ending Delbarton’s season in this round last year. That being said, Delbarton has more skill up front and should pull it out.

Delbarton, 3-0

St. Augustine Prep vs. Seton Hall Prep
Have we been looking forward to this one or what? This matchup has been the talk of the state for a long time. St. Augustine Prep is unbeaten at 20-0 and owned PDS in a 6-0 win Feb. 6. Seton Hall Prep, by contrast, edged Princeton Day 5-4 Feb. 12. It’s not all about comparative scores, obviously. Chris Preziosi is back in the house for SHP, but it just hasn’t been the Pirates’ year – they only have 11 wins. The Hermits will be tested more than they have in other games this year, but I think they get it done.

St. Augustine Prep, 4-3

March 12
Notre Dame vs. CBA
This is an intriguing matchup as well. Obviously, CBA just won the Gordon Cup with outstanding defense and has Zuppe, van Riemsdyk and Kolbenschlag in front of Gary Kondler. The Colts have given up just 11 goals in their last 11 games.
Notre Dame is legit defensively, too, and has beaten two Gordon teams already. Brandon Delibero is very good in goal, and Adam Shemansky and Mike Slowikowski are dangerous up front. The Irish have more big-game experience than in the past, and I think they have a shot. CBA is ripe for the upset. But I still can’t pick against them.

CBA, 3-1

Bergen Catholic vs. St. Peter’s Prep
I was going to pick this one as a pretty straightforward contest, but BC tied SPP 3-3 Jan. 29 and the Marauders have not been particularly impressive since beating Delbarton in early January. However, Bergen Catholic lost to Paramus Catholic. And you have to have faith in Kevin Fox and Kyle Palmieri over BC’s less accomplished cast.

St. Peter’s Prep, 5-2

Quarterfinals are set

March 8, 2007 on 11:36 am | In analysis | 1 Comment

Terrific action all over the state last night, so let’s take a look.

Ridge 2, Princeton 1 (OT) : Trenton Times
Little Tigers should feel better about this exit than last year’s loss.

Chatham 2, Montgomery 1
Cougars find a way to get it done in the only game I got wrong.

Morris Knolls 2, Mendham 0 : Daily Record
Closer than the score, and Josh Ofner played. Crazy. Three words I didn’t expect to say this year. Bizarre situation.
Bridgewater-Raritan 3, Hopewell Valley 0 : Trenton Times | Courier-News
HoVal plays respectably but loses cool and class down the stretch (not for the first time). Bigg props to the Bridgewater goalie.

Watchung Hills 4, Ramapo 0 : Bergen Record
Didn’t surprise me at all. These teams had been going this way for several weeks now. Props to Watchung Hills for a heckuva season, and don’t rule out a quarterfinal upset.

CBA 2, St. John Vianney 1 (OT) : Asbury Park Press
Forget the game and Matt Deering standing on his head. I can’t hold my tongue anymore about the CBA uniforms. What were they thinking!? It looks like they got hold of those old ParHills uniforms. And since when is black a CBA color? Yikes.

Quarterfinal analysis :
Coming late tonight or tomorrow morning, I hope. It won’t be too sophisticated, but these neutral-site, non-Continental Airlines Arena games are my favorite part of the season.

who else will join the party?

March 7, 2007 on 11:17 am | In analysis | 1 Comment

Well, I went five-for-five yesterday, and I’m kinda proud of myself. I’m going to brag now, because there’s no way I’ll get all the games right two days in a row. Game-by-game yesterday:

Fair Lawn 0, Northern Highlands 0 (FL 3-1 in shootout) : Bergen Record
I got this one right, but I can’t say it was a really tough pick – Fair Lawn is the best public state tournament underdog of the past five years, by far. Colin Lemay stood on his head, as you knew he might, and Northern Highlands’ season ends in the cruelest of fashions – the shootout. From personal experience, I know how that one feels. I truly wish I had been there for this; my boy Dan Rosen said it was the best state tournament game he’s ever seen.
Hillsborough 4, Jefferson 1 : Star-Ledger
This one sounds closer than the score. Visnovsky had to make 25 saves, and Jefferson had seven power-play chances but could not find its offense. It was about time for the Falcons, anyway.
Randolph 4, Steinert 3
Props to Steinert for keeping it closer than I expected. Props to Kyle Krannich for making me a prophet with his hat trick. He’s been one of my favorite players since he was a Kenny Agostino-sized freshman, and it’s been fun to hear about him moving up to forward and dominating a bit. Too bad the 8 pm game is too late for newspaper coverage.
Notre Dame 5, Don Bosco Prep 2
Shemansky and Slowikowski keep rolling on by breaking open a 2-2 game in the third period. Even if Notre Dame goes down to CBA, two wins over Gordon teams and a gaudy record make this a great year for the Irish.
Delbarton 7, Paramus Catholic 1
Ho-hum.

You’ve got my predictions for tonight in the previous post; I would go to Mennen Arena for the doubleheader there, and the Watchung Hills/Ramapo game ought to be terrific as well. Enjoy!

Linking my way through the state tournament

March 6, 2007 on 10:40 am | In analysis | No Comments

Obviously, I was not at any of the nine state tournament games yesterday – the last day of the hockey season with that many games – but plenty of reporters around the state were, so I’m going to link you to their excellent coverage. Thank God wrestling season is over, so maybe in a week we can stop reading after-the-fact coverage of the wrestling finals and actually see some hockey. (Seriously, what the heck do they write about? Wrestling takes up more room than any sport except basketball, and that is completely out of proportion to how many people care about it, in my very biased opinion.)

Hopewell Valley-Middletown South: The Trentonian

Seton Hall Prep-Monsignor Donovan: Ocean County Observer

Middletown North-Princeton: Asbury Park Press

Ramapo-Wall: Bergen Record | Asbury Park Press

In other games, Mitch Wien (goals, points) and Alex Toth (wins) continued to set Steinert records by the dozen in an impressive 10-3 win over Kinnelon. Wien scored four goals, Gil Schaffer had six points, and Toth made 31 saves. Steinert next faces Randolph, which recently beat Kinnelon 10-1 in the Mennen Cup quarterfinals.

Paramus Catholic edged MKA 2-1, avenging the Paladins’ first loss of the season Dec. 30. PC moves on to play Delbarton tonight.

Montgomery beat Mahwah 5-2, setting up one of the best public school second-round games against Chatham Wednesday night.

Mendham beat Pequannock 5-2, advancing to play Morris Knolls for the fourth time this year. The Golden Eagles eliminated the Minutemen from the Cron Tournament and the Mennen Cup and beat them in the regular season. Fourth time’s a charm? Seems unlikely.

Finally, St. Augustine Prep had no trouble with Morristown-Beard, winning 6-1. Nice to get an at-large bid to the tournament; not nice to face a top-five seed in the first game.

For some analysis of the remaining rounds, read on …. Continue reading Linking my way through the state tournament…

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