Perhaps Delbarton has had more highly skilled rosters on some of its storied teams in the recent past, but few could surpass this club’s dogged ability to hound the puck and hustle.
Suiting up a roster featuring just five seniors and few underclassmen who logged many minutes last season, Delbarton still managed to produce a campaign that will long be remembered in its hockey annals.
Senior Mark Benemerito and sophomore James Falivene each delivered a goal in the second period and senior Troy Kobryn was poised in making 20 saves when Delbarton, No. 1 in the HNIB News New Jersey Top 10 Poll, rallied for a 2-1 victory over fourth-ranked Don Bosco Prep on Monday in the NJSIAA Private championship at Mennen Arena.
It marked the 12th state title for Delbarton – and 10th under coach Bruce Shatel – as the squad finished with a 27-1-2 record. The state crown was also Delbarton’s eighth in the past 10 years. In his 16 seasons at Delbarton Shatel has now amassed an impressive 383-46-35 record, good for fifth all-time in New Jersey. Delbarton also claimed its seventh Gordon Cup title with a decisive 5-0 victory over third-ranked Pope John on Feb. 17.
The meeting in the final was the third between the two Gordon Conference rivals this winter, with Delbarton winning all three contests and outscoring its foe, 8-2.
The NJSIAA championships were held at Mennen Arena for the first time since 2007 due to a scheduling conflict at Newark’s Prudential Center, where the New Jersey Devils play. That year St. Augustine Prep defeated St. Peter’s Prep, 3-2, in the Private final to become the first and only team in New Jersey history to go unbeaten and untied in a season (23-0). In the Public championship in 2007 Randolph rallied for a 5-4 overtime victory over Bridgewater-Raritan.
Total attendance for all three games at Mennen Arena was 4,981.
The title was especially satisfying for Benemerito and his four classmates.
“We had a lot of new players,” said Benemerito, who finished the campaign with 22 goals and 16 assists, “and a lot of the guys who were back didn’t have big roles last season. But we all played hard. Maybe we didn’t have as much talent as some of the other teams in the past, but we had a solid work ethic. That was our identity.”
Benemerito displayed that trait late in the second period as Delbarton capitalized on an inopportune bounce for Don Bosco.
After winning a faceoff in the offensive zone the puck was sent back to the point to a Don Bosco defenseman, but the disk bounced over his stick and back into center ice where Benemerito quickly gathered it up and sped up ice on a breakaway. He cruised down the slot, deked to the left, then cut right and roofed a backhand to give Delbarton a 2-1 lead with 1:34 left in the second period.
“We lost the draw and their guy tried to saucer it back to the far defenseman,” Benemerito explained, “but the puck bounced over his stick and I was able to track it down. I came in and went upstairs with the backhand. It was a great feeling, really exciting. Coach Shatel told us before the game that Don Bosco would come out hard, and they did. So, we knew we had to change it up and play better defensively while working for more looks at the other end. We weren’t nervous at all.”
Don Bosco planned on opening the game with force and the Ironmen did, finishing off their checks with authority, getting the puck deep and displaying excellent coverage by their defensemen. The Bergen County school produced the game’s first goal when defenseman John Campomenosi broke up a Delbarton rush and countered the other way. Campomenosi gained the blue line before sending a pass to forward Tyler Nielsen, who spun between the dots and whipped in a low shot past Kobryn for a 1-0 lead just 1:34 into the contest. It was Don Bosco’s initial shot on goal and the senior’s 12th goal of the season.
But Falivene got the equalizer 2:39 into the second period on an assist from Patrick Harrington to make it a 1-1 game.
Don Bosco senior goalie Alexei Masanko (16 saves) made superb saves off attempts by Benemerito and Danny Colon, while Kobryn denied a point-blank attempt from Tsubasa Konishi in the scoreless third period. Masanko was pulled for the extra attacker with 1:32 left but the Ironmen were unable to strike for the tying goal.
The outcome was disappointing for Don Bosco, which outshot Delbarton in all three periods and was seeking its first state championship in its third appearance.
“We put pressure on Delbarton early,” said Don Bosco coach Greg Toskos, who was a standout on the Ironmen’s first state final trip in 1994 (6-1 loss to CBA). “We had our chances; and we had a couple of good chances in the first and second periods to add to the lead. It was a game of inches. The puck jumps over our defenseman’s stick and that leads to the eventual winning goal. That was the difference.
“We held Delbarton to 19 shots and few good scoring chances. We got to the state final, but it’s disappointing for sure.”
Although both teams finished their checks with gusto, the contest was quite clean and neither Delbarton nor Don Bosco was whistled for a penalty.
“This championship is up there,” said Kobryn. “It’s pretty special. This was a young team but everyone embraced their roles and we bonded. Don Bosco came hard in the first period, as we knew they would, but we kept our composure. This win means everything to me. It’s a great way to go out as a senior.”
While the post-game celebrations were raging on the ice for several minutes, Shatel waited patiently off the ice in the runway leading to his club’s locker room. The coach reflected on the eve of the season in November, when he wondered what kind of journey his mostly underclass roster would produce.
“We responded as we have done all season,” said Shatel. “Troy Kobryn and our defense were great all year and they have a lot of courage. It’s pretty remarkable what we accomplished with only had five seniors, but everybody all bought in and you can’t put a price on a season like this. This team was ready to work every day and to win 27 games with the schedule we had is a credit to our players. I told them before that I love this team.”
Interestingly, both Shatel and Toskos finished their high school hockey careers with 225 points – Shatel was a standout skating for Morristown while Toskos starred at Don Bosco.
State Tournament victories: Montclair Kimberley (9-0), Bergen Catholic (6-1), Christian Brothers Academy (6-3), Don Bosco Prep (2-1).