By Brian Deakyne
RED BANK — Early, it looked like Middletown South would roll to a win.
Late, the Eagles were up against the ropes with a heart-breaking loss imminent.
In the end, neither was the case as the top-seeded Eagles and third-seeded Brick Township Dragons played to a 4-4 tie, Saturday afternoon at Red Bank Armory in the Handchen Cup final.
With a scoreless overtime, both teams were named co-champions of the Handchen Cup.
“Our guys are down, they don’t want to end in a tie,” Middletown South head coach Stan Gutt said. “They wanted to keep playing. This is one of our goals all season, to try to win this thing here and it seems like a loss when it’s a tie.”
The Eagles scored three goals on their first eight shots of the game, exposing Dragons’ goalie Nick Lampiasi, jumping out to a 3-0 first period lead.
Brick drew within a goal in the second period, but South answered right back, extending their lead to 4-2 before the Dragons scored late goals in the second and third periods to force overtime.
Brian Walsh put Midd South up first when his slap shot from the point ricocheted off a Dragons defender and found the back of the net.
Later, senior Chris Connor tapped in a power play goal to put the Eagles up 2-0, and Dan Wotjick buried a slap shot from the point, extending South’s lead to 3-0 with 5:27 remaining in the first period.
“Brick came back hard. Our guys kind of laid down and Brick came back and kept fighting. They did a great job to come back,” Gutt said.
Zach England put home a rebound goal with six minutes remaining in the second period, taking care of Walsh’s initial shot from outside the slot, putting South up 4-2.
Trevor Ralph made 44 saves in the tie.
The Eagles were nearly awarded a penalty shot within the final moments of the third period when Chris Connor was taken down on a breakaway, but they were given a two-minute power play instead.
South was put behind the eight-ball when captain Jimmy Burns was given a 10-minute misconduct late in the second period, although the Eagles said the captain didn’t say a word to the ref.
“I don’t know what a penalty shot is if that’s not a penalty shot,” Gutt said of the penalty on Connor. “Of course, they are two Brick officials. It wasn’t even him [Burns] who said it. It is what it is. Sometimes it’s a tough game. You play in a championship game, your emotions are high and you have to control them. Then again, you don’t look the other way, either.”
Ralph turned away all eight of the Dragons’ chances in the five-minute overtime.
Late in the third period, the Dragons issued concern regarding Ralph’s throat-guard on his helmet, and he was forced to change it.
“I thought they were better than that,” Gutt said. “It hasn’t been an issue all year, and now it is one. I wouldn’t have done it to them and I don’t think they should have done it to us.”
Middletown South went one-for-three on their power plays and killed off all three penalties on the day.