By Brian Deakyne
Middletown – For the longest time, they’ve been living in the shadow of their cross-town rival.
Behind first-year coach Matt Clemente, the Middletown North ice hockey program will look to escape the grasp of Middletown South, and make a name for themselves, building off a sub-par season where they went 10-12-1, and won just two games within the Shore ‘A’.
Last year, they qualified for the Public ‘A’ state tournament as the 17-seed, beat West Windsor-Plainsboro South in the first round, and lost to top-seeded Randolph, 7-1, in the second round. They did not qualify for the Handchen cup, which is a Shore Conference Tournament between the top eight teams in the Shore ‘A’ and Shore ‘B’ divisions.
The Lions graduated long-time goalie Kevin Perret 2.96 GAA in 16 games, along with Anthony Decicco and Dave Hague, both who lead the team with 23 points. Brandon Bussey, who added 19 points on 13 goals and 6 assists, also graduated.
Connor Hall will be returning for his senior season after his 12 goal, 20-point season in 2010-2011, along with forwards Joe Dickson who had 12 points last season, and Jason Kirsch, who tallied 8 points.
“Joe [Dickson] and Jason [Kirsch] didn’t put up the same kind of numbers that Connor [Hall] did, but they both have the physical skills to be major contributors this season,” Clemente said.
Sophomore Scott Huber is also expected to contribute after an impressive freshman year, posting 3 points last season, along with freshman Tom Terranova, who is expected to put in a good year and be a factor offensively.
Defensively, the Lions will be lead by their junior captain, James Felice, along with his pairing mate, Frank Rodriguez, both who are coming off strong seasons.
Despite their core of returning players, Clemente knows just how difficult it is to compete in the Shore Conference.
“Other than the Mennen League, we play in probably the toughest conference in NJ,” he said. “As a first-year coach, it wouldn’t be fair to my players or staff to put a win number on our expectations this season. All I can see if with the players returning and some incoming freshman, I expect to be in every game.”
The Lions open the season against Red Bank Catholic and Brick Township — two teams that faced off in the Handchen Cup final.
“We are not going to be the most skilled team in the conference. All my coaching staff and I can do is make sure we are prepared and have a game plan in place,” Clemente said. “It will be up to the players to execute the game plan, and be the harder working team on the ice. If we can walk out of the rink after each game knowing we gave it our all, we will be satisfied with that.”
Still, Clemente expects to see an improvement in the team’s play and has goals for his squad this year.
“We expect to qualify for the state tournament and once we get in we will let the chips fall where they may,” he said.