By Brian Deakyne
RED BANK — The Eagles left no doubt.
In a game for first place in the Shore A, Middletown South (14-5-2) got two third period goals from captain Jimmy Burns, propelling them past Brick Township, 3-2, Sunday night, and essentially, landing them the top seed in the upcoming Handchen Cup.
The win finished an impressive second-half for the Eagles, who went 9-0-2 in their final 11 games, proving themselves to be worthy of the favorite in the post-season tournament that features the top four Shore A and top four Shore B teams.
“That was one of our goals coming into the season,” Middletown South head coach Stan Gutt said. “We wanted to get the top seed in the Handchen Cup, win the Handchen Cup, and win a state championship. We are very confident about who we’re putting on the ice.”
Since Jan. 8, Middletown South has been playing nearly completely healthy, getting captains Tyler Ralph and Jimmy Burns back on the ice.
The Eagles will face Howell, seeded 8, in the first round on Friday, Feb. 17 at 7:30 p.m. Midd South is 1-1 against Howell this year, with a 4-1 win on Dec. 23 and a 4-2 loss in the fifth-place game of the Bridgewater Holiday Tournament on Dec. 29.
“Howell is a very formidable opponent, they’re a tough team,” Gutt said. “We can take from that game the fact that they beat us, and the fact that we will need to play at our very best to win.”
Red Bank Catholic
A year after topping Brick Township in the Handchen Cup final, the Caseys’ will have a shot to repeat as champions, earning the two-seed in this year’s tournament.
Red Bank Catholic has had an up-and-down season, including a mercy loss to CBA, 10-0, a 4-3 win over Middletown South, a 3-3 tie with CBA and a 6-3 win over Brick Township.
“This is going to be a very tough tournament. All eight seeds can beat each other and they have throughout the season,” Red Bank Catholic head coach Ken Carlson said.
RBC has 11 players on their roster that wasn’t part of last year’s team, a team that avenged two losses to the Dragons in the regular season, clipping them in overtime.
“I think the experience definitely helps,” Carlson said. “And for the 11 players that weren’t here last year, they got experience and really stepped up in the regular season.”
Red Bank Catholic has been anchored by their senior goalie Chet Tooker, who likely will play a big part in the Casey’s post-season success.
RBC will host Toms River North, on Thursday, Feb. 16 at 2:30 p.m. at the Red Bank Armory in their opening round game.
After an impressive regular season — one of the best in the program’s history, the Bulldogs notched the two-seed in the Dowd Cup, and will play Toms River East on Monday, Feb. 20 at 8:15 p.m. at the Red Bank Armory.
The Bulldogs (15-2) won the Shore C rather handily, falling only to Point Pleasant Boro on Jan. 6 and Manasquan on Feb. 2. They have had marquee wins against Marlboro, Wall, and Manasquan en route to the second-most wins in the Shore Conference.
Hunter Rotchford has been the leading scorer for RFH, totaling 31 points on 18 goals and 13 assists, and senior captain Gary Cali has been a forceful contributor, adding 26 points.
Brian Robinson has played a key role, offensively, posting 20 points on the season.
The Bulldogs have held two separate six-game win streaks this season, and ended the season on a three-game win streak.
Red Bank Regional: The Bucs had a four-game win streak in December, but struggled over the final two months of the season, ending the season on a three-game losing skid, and falling to the sixth-seed in the Dowd Cup — the tournament played between the top four teams in the Shore C and Shore D.
Red Bank Regional (7-10-2) last won on Jan. 30, 2-1, over Nutley, and will face St. Rose in the first round of the tournament on Friday, Feb. 17 at 8:15 p.m.
“I think the 6-seed is definitely deserving of our play,” Red Bank Regional head coach Tim Hall said. “We struggled a little towards the end of the season. I thought we could have pushed for the 5-seed, or we could have fallen to the 7-seed, so I think 6 is appropriate.”
In their two games with St. Rose, the Bucs lost 4-2 on Jan. 13 and tied, 1-1, on Jan. 18.
“We play St. Rose tough,” Hall said. “Regardless of who we were going to play, we knew we could play them tough. St. Rose poses a different problem than Point Pleasant Boro, who poses a different problem than Manasquan. We think we can play them tough.”
The Bucs’ have been lead all season by junior forward Joe DelSordo, who finished with 26 points, and senior goalie Charlie Fox, who posted a 2.58 goals-against-average in 12 games played this year.