By Brian Deakyne
WALL — With their future opponent in attendance, Middletown South did not disappoint.
The top-seeded Eagles had no trouble in advancing to the Handchen Cup finals, where they will face Brick Township, who beat Toms River North, 11-1.
The trip is South’s third in four years. They won in 2009 and 2010.
“It’s a good feeling. After winning it my freshman year and my sophomore year, and getting knocked out in the first round last year, it’s a good feeling to get back to the [Red Bank] Armory,” Middletown South captain Jimmy Burns said.
The Eagles got two goals from Chris Connor in the second period to pull away from fourth-seeded Wall, 5-1, Wednesday night at Jersey Shore Arena.
Tyler Ralph threw a pass to Connor from behind the net, and Connor, who reached his 150th career point in their first-round win over Howell, made one move to his back-hand and lifted the puck into the net.
Later in the period, Connor took his own rebound, skated behind the Knights’ net and pounded the back-handed shot into the top of the net, extending the Eagles lead to 3-0.
The win is Middletown South’s seventh in a row, and the Eagles haven’t dropped a game since Jan. 8.
“Our guys seem to have a knack to play well at this time of the year,” Middletown South head coach Stan Gutt said. “It’s been happening the last four years with these seniors in there. This time of year seems to bring out the best in them.”
Billy Murphy put the Eagles on the board first, burying a shot from outside the slot past Wall goalie Troy Klahre with 5:21 left in the period.
Ralph tapped in a goal that was originally stopped by Klahre in the opening minutes of the second period. After the Eagles generated numerous scoring chances in their first few shifts, Ralph’s goal put them up, 2-0.
Burns added a goal of his own in the third period. On the power play, the senior captain went coast-to-coast and beat Klahre to his right, adding to the Eagles lead.
“I came up the right side, and I wanted to set something up, but I saw the goalies angle was off so I just came in and beat him there,” Burns said.
Trevor Ralph stopped 23 of the 24 shots he faced, keeping Middletown South on top with big saves of the penalty kill throughout the night.
“Trevor has stolen the job [as starting goalie],” Gutt said. “He’s came in and he’s been rock solid in there, giving no rebound up, taking care of the net. We’re ready to win a championship with him.”
South will take on Brick Township on Saturday at Red Bank Armory at 3 p.m. The Eagles topped the Dragons, 3-2, on the final day of the regular season to clinch the Shore A division.
“It’s going to be a hard-fought game, it always is,” Gutt said. “They’re a physical, tough, hard-working team. We’re going to have to come out there and play as hard as them and shoot the puck well.”
Brick lost to Red Bank Catholic in the Handchen Cup final last year.