Back and in Business: No. 3 Middletown South returns to action with victory over No. 2 St. John Vianney
MIDDLETOWN – Rust? What rust?
Given the veteran core of his team, Middletown South head coach Andrew Rosenbloom felt good about his team despite a two-week layoff, but at the same time there was a degree of uncertainty about how the Eagles would look early on against a fellow top-20 team in New Jersey.
The Eagles, ranked No. 3 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 and No. 20 in New Jersey, did not look like a team that last played a game on Jan. 20, however. Middletown South won the first period, built a three-goal lead and held on for a huge 3-2 victory over No. 2/No. 17 St. John Vianney on Friday afternoon at the Middletown Sports Complex.
The victory is a marquee win in the Shore Conference’s North Division and also the Eagles’ first over SJV since the 2016-2017 season.
“We were able to look at some film (during the two-week pause) but our time on the ice has been limited,” said Rosenbloom, whose team was shut down for two weeks because of COVID-19 exposure and last suited up during a 3-0 win over Marlboro/Holmdel on Jan. 20. “To go out there against a team that is top 20 in the state and top five in the Shore and in the first period look the way we did, you couldn’t have asked for much more.
“Honestly, at first I thought it was going to be a little hard after not playing for a while, but we exceeded expectations,” said junior forward Nate Block. “For the first game back in two and half weeks, it was really good. That’s also a team we’ve been looking to beat for the last couple years and we just couldn’t win, and it’s awesome to finally get a win against them.”
Block had a hand in all three Middletown South (3-0, 2-0) goals with one goal and two assists. Junior forward Aiden Cavendish added a goal and an assist, senior forward Michael Volpi scored once and junior defenseman Andreas Forand had two assists. Junior goalie Jack Collings was great yet again, making 33 saves, including 17 in the third period when St. John Vianney was pushing for the equalizer.
The Lancers (3-1-1, 0-1-1) received goals from junior forward Giuliano Fazio and senior forward Ryan Kulaszewski while junior goalie Dan Shallcross made 19 saves.
It took just a few shifts for Middletown South to realize the team was just fine. St. John Vianney had a slight possession advantage in the first few minutes, but no major chances. The play was basically even.
“Even off the first shift our momentum was just there,” Block said. “We were going for pucks hard, crashing the zone, forechecking heavy; the pace of the game is what kept us in it.”
Middletown South’s power-play struggled in wins over Southern and Marlboro and was an area of focus during the two-weeks away from in-person team activities. At 8:29 of the first period, the Eagles got a chance to test their efforts when SJV’s Colin Gartz was whistled for interference.
The Eagles were looking to set up Volpi for a shot from the blue line while getting bodies in front of Shallcross. Volpi had four shot attempts on the man advantage, the first two being deflected wide and the third getting on net but being stopped by Shallcross. After two SJV clears, Middletown South regained the zone, got in position and Block sent a pass from the sidewall over to Volpi. This time, his wrist shot found its way through a sea of bodies and into the back of the net for a 1-0 lead.
“If you saw our power play the first two games it looked horrendous,” Rosenbloom said. “So one of the good things about the two-week layoff was we spent time working on the power play and for it to come to fruition was nice to see.”
Middletown South took that 1-0 lead after an otherwise even first period into the intermission. But It took just 47 seconds of the second period for the advantage to grow to two goals.
Block picked up a speed in his own end and received a pass from Cavendish at his own blue line before zooming into the offensive zone. He headed below the icing line but before going behind the net flung the puck toward the goal. It bounced off either Shallcross or Volpi or both and came right to Cavendish, who poked the puck just between the left post and Shallcross’s right skate to give the Eagles a 2-0 lead.
“I saw two of my guys crashing the net and figured, ‘might as well try, right?’,” Shallcross said.
It almost went from bad to much worse when St. John Vianney was called for penalties at 1:07 and 2:43, giving Middletown South a 5-on-3 for 24 seconds. The Lancers were able to kill off both infractions to keep their deficit at two goals, but that wouldn’t last for long.
At 9:26 of the second period, Block added to his two helpers with a goal of his own, finding the rebound of a shot by Forand and whacking it past Shallcross to open up a three-goal cushion for Middletown South.
“It hit off one of our teammate's shin guards, I think, and it came right out to me and I was able to smack it in short side,” Block said.
The next goal was going to be critical, either signaling a Middletown South rout or the start of a potential St. John Vianney comeback. The Lancers received that much-needed goal thanks to a bit of thievery by Fazio. Directly off an offensive-zone draw, Fazio lifted the stick of a Middletown South defenseman and in one motion stole the puck and slid it past Collings to cut his team’s deficit to 3-1 at 12:18 of the second.
It was obvious St. John Vianney was going to take some chances in the third and the Lancers did just that. Middletown South played smart by keeping it simple and not taking the bait, but the ice was severely tilted toward the Eagles’ end over the final 15 minutes.
Collings kept the Eagles’ lead at two for a while, but with 6:05 left in the game and SJV on a power play, Kulaszewski’s shot from the left circle found its way through to make it a 3-2 game. It appeared a screen from Colin Gartz may have affected Collings and the puck just tricked in between his body and blocker arm.
Middletown South had been in this position before and come up short against the Lancers, but on this occasion, the Eagles would not relinquish the lead. Collings made some big saves down the stretch and Middletown South played sound in its own zone to come away with an important victory.
“(SJV) put a huge push in that last period, which I knew they would,” Rosenbloom said. “We kind of had this demon on our back, they had our number for the last four years or so. The guys battled. They got in lanes at the end and Jack Collings was awesome again. It was a gutsy way to pull it out.”
My three stars
1 Nate Block
2 Jack Collings
3 Aiden Cavendish
No. 3 Middletown South 3, No. 2 St. John Vianney 2
|St. John Vianney (3-1-1, 0-1-1)||0||1||1||2|
|Middletown South (3-0, 2-0)||1||2||0||3|
MS – Michael Volpi (Nate Block, Michael Ferlanti), 9:47 (PP)
MS – Aiden Cavendish (Nate Block, Andreas Forand), 0:47
MS – Nate Block (Andreas Forand, Aiden Cavendish), 9:26
SJV – Giuliano Fazio, 12:18
SJV – Ryan Kulaszewski (Alec Osher), 8:53 (PP)
SAVES – SJV: Dan Shallcross, 19; MS: Jack Collings, 33
POWER-PLAY – SJV: 1-for-1; MS: 1-for-4.
Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.
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