No. 6 Glen Rock was expected to be a top contender throughout this winter, and the club has certainly acquitted itself nicely in that regard.
But with the NJSIAA state tournament commencing this week the Panthers are now lacing up their skates for a crown that barely slipped out of their grasp last year – a Public B championship.
Glen Rock, which has not won a state title, fashioned a 23-3-2 record and won the Freedom Cup in 2016 before advancing to the Public B final, where it dropped a 5-1 decision to Bergen County rival Ramsey.
The Panthers enter the 2017 tournament as the top seed in Public B with an 18-3-4 record that includes a 5-2 victory over No. 2 seed Northern Highlands in the Big North Gold Cup final last Saturday (Feb. 17), a game that saw Glen Rock rally from a 2-0 first period deficit. The victory extended Glen Rock’s unbeaten streak to nine games (7-0-2). The Panthers have not lost since bowing to Don Bosco Prep, 6-1, in the Bergen County Tournament final on Jan. 18.
“I think going through the experience of last year’s disappointment in the state final is a bonus now,” said the former Clifton standout. “Maybe we overlooked teams at times in the past but if so, it’s a lesson we’ve learned. We aren’t thinking big picture right now, we’re just thinking details and just the game that’s right in front of us.”
For Glen Rock, that will be when it faces-off against the winner of 16-Jackson Memorial and 17-Rumson-Fair Haven on Feb. 24 at the Ice House in Hackensack. The Panthers’ seven seniors have delivered strong leadership all season, and that was indicative in the comeback against Northern Highlands in the Big North Final.
Senior forward Jake Kinney and junior wing John LaMacchia each netted two goals, Jared Brasil scored once and Ryan McAuley made 23 saves for Glen Rock in the triumph. Kinney has had a superb season thus far, displaying his scoring touch while adding a nice playmaking knack in scoring 22 goals to go with 23 assists.
Yelovich has also had high praise for the play and leadership this season offered from seniors Colin Morrow, Peter Cassidy and Leo Pawlika.
The Public B field is quite strong, with Yelovich indicating that any of the top eight or 10 seeded teams are capable of making a march to the title. The scouting report here is aware that Northern Highlands, No. 7 Middletown South, Indian Hills, Chatham, Lakeland, Roxbury, Summit or Wall could march to the final and win it all. All those clubs are capable.
“I think the way we came back and won in the Big North Cup after starting out poorly was a big boost heading into the state tournament,” Yelovich said. “We deviated from our plan but our veteran leadership allowed us to remain calm and right the ship. I feel that is the type of game we rely on if we’re in trouble.
“This has been a pretty resilient bunch all year. We’ve got seven seniors and a good group of juniors who were part of last year’s disappointment. The key for us will be to play defensively responsible hockey and take care of all the little details in a game that make the difference. These guys are pretty good at just playing their shift and not looking at the scoreboard. In the end, we have control of our destiny.”
No. 1 Delbarton earned the top seed and is the favorite to claim its 13th NJSIAA state title. The Green Wave will play the winner of the first-round match between 16-Pingry and 17-Montclair Kimberley Academy on Feb. 24 at Aspen Ice in Randolph.
Delbarton (23-1-2) captured its seventh Gordon Cup championship with a dominating effort in a 5-0 victory over No. 3 Pope John on Saturday (Feb. 17). The cup title was the 25th overall for Delbarton, which also holds 18 Mennen Cups in its trophy case. The Morristown school now has 36 major championships.
The Green Wave will now begin defense of the Private title after winning it last year in a 3-1 victory over No. 2 Christian Brothers Academy. Delbarton’s lone loss this season came against CBA (3-1 defeat) on Feb. 6 as Derek Contessa registered the hat trick for the Monmouth County school.
So, CBA won the Gordon Cup in 2016 before falling to Delbarton, 3-1, in the rematch for the Private state championship two weeks later. The two clubs could meet again this post-season, but it would be in the semifinal round and not in the final – where the two have faced off in 2015 and 2016. Delbarton’s two in-state ties have come against Pope John (4-4 on Jan. 17) and No. 5 St. Augustine Prep (2-2 on Feb. 2).
Delbarton also entered the Pope Francis (MA) Tournament in mid-February and won it with impressive victories over Pope Francis and Bishop Hendricken (RI).
“Now the state tournament begins and it’s time to crank up your game to a higher level,” said Delbarton coach Bruce Shatel.
Delbarton relies on a balanced effort up front featuring forwards Jack Malone (18 goals, 23 assists), Mark Benemerito (17, 15), Andrew Bosland (14, 17), Danny Colon (14, 12) and Nick Siffringer (12, 19). Veteran goalie Troy Kobryn has posted a stellar .941 save percentage.
The Morristown school will have challengers, though. Second-ranked Christian Brothers (14-4-4) was stopped in the quarterfinal round of the Gordon Cup by fifth-ranked St. Augustine Prep (9-7-4) and should be primed to make a statement. Pope John (18-2-3) has surged the entire season with consistent hockey. No. 4 Don Bosco Prep will also be a primary challenger for the Private title; and Morristown-Beard (16-8-1), which claimed its fourth straight Mennen Cup championship last week, cannot be dismissed.
No. 9 Seton Hall Prep (9-9-4) and St. Peter’s Prep (10-9-1) could also make the bracket interesting.
No. 8 Morris Knolls (16-5-2) suffered a disheartening 4-3 loss to Morristown-Beard on Feb. 16 in the Mennen Cup final. But the Golden Eagles, who earned the top seed in the Public A bracket, may use that defeat as fuel on their quest for their first Public A championship in three years.
Additionally, Morris Knolls is motivated by its 4-1 loss in last year’s final to Mennen Division rival Morristown. The Golden Eagles will begin the tournament by playing 32-Mount Olive on Tuesday (Feb. 21).
Also, waiting to secure the Public A crown is No. 10 (second-seeded) Ridge, which hauls an 18-6-1 record into the tournament. The Red Devils have lost only twice in the last nine games as they seek their first Public A crown since winning it in 2008. Jack Mandala (18, 17), Alex Konovalov (15, 22) and John Vilade (16, 7) are the offensive catalysts for Ridge.
But Ridge was denied on Saturday in its quest for the Skyland Cup, suffering a 2-1 overtime loss to 4-Hunterdon Central (13-6-6) and enters its first-round tournament game against 31-Marlboro on Tuesday coming off that disappointment.
Perennial Morris County power Randolph has struggled at times through a 9-8-5 season, but one can never discount the Rams once the state tournament gets underway. The Rams have grabbed four of the last six Public A crowns. Veteran coach Rich McLaughlin, who is just nine victories shy of 400 in his career, has guided Randolph to five Public A championships (the last in 2015) and eight overall state titles.
Hunterdon Central certainly made a statement with its Skyland Cup victory over Ridge. But Livingston, Freehold Township, Bridgewater-Raritan and Southern Regional could all make for an interesting Public A bracket.
Interestingly, 13 of the 34 Public A teams are now co-ops.
The Public B, Public A and Private championship games will all be contested on March 6 at Mennen Arena in Morris Township.