By Brian Deakyne
WALL — The Eagles ice hockey team is good at a lot of things.
Over the past month and a half, Middletown South has soared to the top of the Shore A division, scoring goals, playing defense, and executing their gameplan.
The Eagles most impressive asset, however, has been their ability to play while being injured.
South displayed that ability Monday afternoon, ripping Brick Memorial, 3-0, despite playing without one of their top defensemen, Matt Littenberg, who is out with a concussion.
“Since January, we’ve been playing with about 97% of our team,” Middletown South head coach Stan Gutt said. “Couple of our guys are back now, except Matt Littenberg. We’re expecting him to come back this weekend, so if he does, we’ll be at 100% for the first time all season.”
The Eagles got first period goals from Billy Murphy and Chris Connor and a second period goal from Tyler Ralph to slide past the Mustangs in a divisional battle at Jersey Shore Arena.
Connor took a pass from Zach England across the crease to score the Eagles’ lone power play goal of the night, taking the 2-0 advantage late in the first period. Ralph set the man-advantage goal up by beating two Brick Memorial defenders and sliding the pass along the ice to England.
Trevor Ralph stopped all 13 shots he faced, recording the shutout for Middletown South.
Murphy put South on the board first when he tapped in a shot that Mustangs’ goalie Tim Schiess originally stopped, but the puck slid through his pads. After Jimmy Burns’ ripped a shot outside the right circle, Schiess appeared to stop the puck on the goal line, but Murphy powered through to tap the puck in before Schiess could cover it.
The goal came exactly ten minutes into the game.
Later, Ralph deflected Brian Walsh’s point-shot into the net. Skating through the slot, Ralph got his stick on the puck to deflect it through Schiess’ five-hole with 1:49 remaining in the second period, giving the Eagles the 3-0 lead.
“We’re happy with the way we came out and played today,” Gutt said. “We didn’t play at our highest level or where we exactly want to be, but [Brick Memorial] is a good hockey club. They’ve done a lot this year.”
After getting four total shots on net in the second period, the Eagles came out firing in the third, registering six shots over the first three minutes. They out-shot the Mustangs, 25-13 on the day.
Since January, and the return of senior captains Burns and Ralph, the Eagles have posted a 6-1-2 record, including wins over Christian Brothers Academy and Red Bank Catholic, making a push for the top seed in the upcoming Handchen Cup.
With a full team, Middletown South has been able to balance their lines, having goal-scorers on all three of them.
“It’s nice to have that one top line that you can rely on all the time. It’s nice to have balanced scoring. One line, sometimes, is not going to be there, so it’s nice to have two or three lines with the scoring touch,” Gutt said.
The Eagles have three games left — including a meeting with Brick Township to ultimately decide the division winner — before the Handchen Cup, which will be followed by the Public A state playoffs.