By Wayne Witkowski
Forward Ryan Lambert scored two goals and earned the Most Valuable Player award when Middletown High School South’s ice hockey team reclaimed the Mayor’s Cup with a 5-3 victory over Middletown High School North Feb. 13 at Middletown Ice World.
In a showdown of two of the hottest teams in the Shore , Middletown South led, 2-0, after one period on goals by Lambert and Travis Yawger and stretched the lead to 3-0 in the second period when Mike Racioppi connected off a pass from Lambert with 8:39 left. Middletown North came back on a pair of power play goals from Brad Heuer to pull to 3-2 — the latter coming with 11:54 remaining in the final period.
After Middletown South padded the lead to 4-2 on a power play goal by Lambert with 8:50 left, Middletown North again answered on a goal by John Hallard with 2:43 remaining to cut the Eagles’ lead to 4-3.
Middletown South closed it out with Deven Ralph’s empty-net goal with 21 seconds left.
Clay Simonsen made 26 saves in Middletown South’s goal. Anthony Manfredi stopped 34 shots for Middletown North.
“Their offense kept us on our toes for a good portion of the game,” Middletown South coach Tony Nemati said. “They could’ve won by the same score, but a couple of bounces went our way. I’m just glad that our seniors like Lambert are graduating with their second Mayor’s Cup in three years.”
Consistency has been Lambert’s asset throughout the season, Nemati said.
“He plays really good on both ends of the ice and sets up the other players well,” said Nemati, who also praised senior Chris Falzone leading the defensemen.
“They’re really more talented than us with their high pressure offense,” said Middletown North coach Matt Clemente, who cautioned before the game that his team had to hold down Middletown South’s scoring because the Lions have not been a high-scoring team this season as they were in their state championship season two years ago.
Middletown South (17-3-1) has won its last four games and is 14-1-1 in its last 16 games. Middletown North is 10-6-4 with the loss.
Both teams had Shore Conference games scheduled the following day.
Middletown South played Jackson Memorial High School in the Handchen Cup semifinals and that winner goes into the Feb. 16 championship game at Jersey Shore Arena in Wall against the winner of the game between Howell High School and Southern Regional High School at a time to be determined. Middletown South beat Jackson Memorial, 9-2, Jan. 13, as Gavin Gulash and Ryan D’Emilia each scored twice. The Eagles advanced to the Handchen Cup semifinals with a 6-1 victory over Brick Memorial High School Feb. 10. Ralph scored twice.
“I hope we still have something left in the tank for this week after this game,” Nemati said. “For the Shore Conference, we have to tighten up our defense and make better decisions on offense. If we can protect the puck, the offense will take care of itself.”
D’Emilia led Middletown South with 17 goals entering the Jackson Memorial game. Gulash and Nick Lioudakis each has 15 goals.
Middletown North played in the Dowd Cup semifinals against Saint John Vianney High School — a team it lost to, 3-2, Jan. 6 before going on a 6-1-1 surge in eight games leading up to the Mayor’s Cup.
The Lions had advanced to the Dowd Cup semifinals by beating Jackson Liberty High School, 4-3, Feb. 10. Hallard scored the game-winner with 2:23 left in overtime. Hallard and Justin Skelly each scored two goals.
Skelly and John Dinnocenzo each have 14 goals, and Hallard has 13 to lead the Lions going into the St. John Vianney game.