After nearly three months of grueling regular-season hockey, the 44th NJSIAA/New Jersey Devils ice hockey tournament has arrived.
Top-ranked Don Bosco Prep has some unfinished business to take care of.
“The state tournament is finally here, and we worked hard to earn the top seed,” said Don Bosco Prep coach Greg Toskos. “But we were the number one seed last year and didn’t finish the job.”
The Ironmen bowed to rival Delbarton in last year’s Private final, 4-2, to end their campaign at 27-2-1. Both of those setbacks came against Delbarton – the other in the Gordon Cup championship. Delbarton also topped Don Bosco, 2-1, in the 2017 Private title match.
This year Don Bosco skates into the tournament at 23-1 and comes off a 5-3 victory over Delbarton in the Gordon Cup title on Feb. 15. It marked the Ironmen’s second Gordon crown overall and first since 2014. Don Bosco carries a 23-game winning streak into the state tournament, its last defeat coming at the hands of Christian Brothers Academy, 3-2, on Dec. 5.
“Our guys are hungry and if we play disciplined hockey and within ourselves, we can go far,” Toskos said. “We are a skilled, fast team but we have to play a disciplined brand of hockey, even more so now in the state tournament. A little puck luck always helps, too.”
Top players: Tyler Sedlak (35-27-72), Liam McLinskey (26-41-67), T.J. Schweighardt (16-23-39), Hunter McGhee (9-20-29), Damien Carfagna (4-24-28), Connor Sedlak (9-10-19), Michael Forgione (6-13-19), Will Fortescue (2-14-16), Jake Geraci (2-17-19), Max Schwarz (.929 save-percentage)
Second-seeded Delbarton (16-6-4) won’t dwell on the defeat in the Gordon Cup final. The Green Wave are a seasoned, talented club that always thrives in the big games. Delbarton is looking to secure its 15th state title, its fourth straight, and 12th under coach Bruce Shatel.
“We need to focus on one game at a time,” said Delbarton coach Bruce Shatel, now 422-58-40. “We have been playing well lately and hope to get a little healthier. There are a lot of teams in our bracket that are capable of doing well. We can’t overlook anyone.”
Top players: Michael Balzarotti (25-31-56), Max Williams (11-20-31), James Falivene (17-10-27), J.P. Nolan (4-12-16), Ben Conrod (4-11-15), Max Darakjy (4-5-9), Brett Cleaves (.933 save-percentage).
Private Lookouts: Third-seeded CBA is fast and hard-working led by forward Kyle Contessa (15-12-27); and is the only team in the state to defeat Don Bosco this season. Pope John is always dangerous with the superb goaltending from Matt Schoer. St. John Vianney relies on talented center John Gutt and is prepared to make some noise. Don’t discount Gloucester Catholic or St. Augustine Prep.
All four state championships will be contested on March 4 at the Prudential Center in Newark.
Hillsborough posted a 6-12-3 record three years ago in coach Chris Tommins’ first season behind the bench.
Now, the Raiders enter the Public A bracket as the top seed after posting an 18-6-1 record. Hillsborough was disappointed in its 6-1 loss to Pingry in the Skyland Cup final on Feb. 16, but the club is now ready to move on and focus on the state tournament.
“We’re excited to get the top seed,” said Tommins. “To go from six wins to the top seed in Public A shows the commitment our players had. They’ve bought into the team culture.”
Hillsborough also watched last season as Skyland Conference rival Hunterdon Central rolled through Public A and claimed the state championship. It had an impact.
“Our players saw Hunterdon Central win last year and how tremendous that was for their program, and now our guys want it. They want to go out and prove that number one spot was legitimate. But that top seed isn’t enough. Our players want to win it.”
Hillsborough has one of the hottest scorers in the state in Jude Kurtas, who has 95 points on 49 goals and 46 assists.
Top Players: Jude Kurtas (49-46-95), Lleyton Soares (13-33-46), Jason Wolff (32-38-70), Mike LoRicco (9-19-28), Brock Forrest (13-15-28), Matt Palmer (6-22-28), Jason LoRicco (.893 save-percentage).
Public A Lookouts: Second-seeded Morris Knolls/Hills advanced to the Mennen Cup semifinals and is always a club to be reckoned with. The same can be said for Montclair and Wayne Hills/Valley, which claimed the championship of the Big North Silver. Keep a sharp eye on Marlboro/Holmdel (12-2-2). The Mustangs were unbeaten at the state cutoff date.
Randolph will have plenty of incentive now in the state tournament after being denied for their quest for a fifth Mennen Cup title last week.
The Rams, the top seed in Public B, were seeking their sixth, and second straight, Mennen Cup on Feb. 15 but lost to Madison, 3-1. Now, Randolph will concentrate on another frustrating ending – last year’s 1-0 setback against Northern Highlands in the Public B championship.
Randolph (18-4-2), seeking its ninth Public title overall and sixth in 11 years, comes into the tournament boasting an 11-3-1 in last 15 games. The always-defensively reliable Rams are bolstered up front by J.T. Zangara, James Mattson, Kyle Barbera and Nick Gallo.
Top Players: J.T. Zangara (14-23-37), Nick Gallo (15-13-28), James Mattson (16-10-26), Kyle Barbera (12-17-29), Evan Xhumba (8-16-24), Justin Harper (8-8-16), Gavin Einfeldt (251-272).
Second-seeded Ridge (15-7-3) had a solid season that was only bolstered by the return of talented forward Alex Konovalov, who missed half the season with a broken ankle. In nine games he totaled 29 points on 20 goals and nine assists.
Ridge, which was ousted from the Skyland Cup in the semifinal round by Hillsborough, is looking to bring home its third state title after winning Public A championships in 2008 and 2017.
Top Players: Alex Konovalov (20-9-29), Matt Balzarotti (15-14-29), Blake Loges (15-13), Luke Rich (7-19-26), Nick DelGaizo (8-10-18), Marcus Fabiunke (.959 save-percentage).
Public B Lookouts: Westfield distinguished itself again with a strong regular season, went to the Union County Cup final; and won the McInnis Cup with a 6-5 victory over rival Summit on Feb. 16. Don’t forget about fourth-seeded Middletown South, fifth-seeded Point Pleasant Boro and sixth-seeded Princeton, who could each make noise in the bracket. Ridgewood, which advanced to the Big North Silver final, is a sleeper club.
Top-seeded Indian Hills (20-4) leads a strong field of clubs in this bracket.
The Braves extended their winning streak to six games after Rory Maurer’s game-winning tally with 1:12 remaining to fuel a 4-3 victory over St. Joseph of Montvale on Feb. 15 in the Big North Gold Cup championship.
Indian Hills made its deepest state tournament run back in 2006 when it advanced to the Public quarterfinal round. The Braves have met two of their Public C rivals in the regular season, going 2-1 against third-seeded Lakeland and also defeating fourth-seeded and defending champion Summit.
Top Players: Thomas Moskal (25-23-58), Jason Atkinson (20-18-38), Ryan Andrews (10-17-27), Drew Lustig (13-13-26), Rory Maurer (10-13-23), Joe Bagi (.934 save-percentage), Max Flink (.913 save-percentage).
Second-seeded Madison is enjoying the best campaign in school history and enters this highly competitive field ready to drive to the title. The Dodgers (16-3-5), who were eliminated in the Round of 16 in 2018, beat perennial power Randolph on Feb. 15, 3-1, in the Mennen Cup final. It was the first Mennen Cup for Madison, which has now won all three MCSSIHL Cups (Mennen, Halvorsen & Haas Cup) in a five-year span.
Madison, which made its deepest state tournament run in 2010 when it skated to the Public B semifinal, carries a 14-game unbeaten streak (12-0-2) into the post-season; and has not lost since a 2-1 defeat against Kelly Cup champion Millburn on Dec. 27 in the Essex Holiday Tournament.
Top Players: Dave Renzulli (19-32-51), Jason Siedem (16-16-32), Jett Tom (19-12-31), Aidan Niceberg (8-10-18), Jack Downs (7-10-17), Ian Skinner (4-11-15) and Matt Ubertaccio (.934 save-percentage, six SO).
Public C Lookouts: Third-seeded Lakeland (18-4-1) was edged by Indian Hills, 3-1, in the Big North Gold semifinal and is ready to make its own run at a state crown. Fourth-seeded Summit (16-6-1) has enough scoring and defense to defend the state title it won last year. Look out for fifth-seeded Manasquan/Point Beach. The Big Blue Warriors, who captured the Dowd Cup last this winter, skate in as the lone unbeaten/untied team left in the state at 19-0-0. Don’t overlook 6-Chatham, 7-Northern Highlands (2018 Public B champion), 8-Mahwah, 9-Ramsey, 10-Vernon or 11-Millburn (Kelly Cup champs).