By Brian Deakyne
MIDDLETOWN – After several years of sharing a home rink with multiple teams at Jersey Shore Arena in Wall Township, Middletown’s two public high school ice hockey programs finally have a home of their own.
Middletown High School North and Middletown High School South both will be playing their home games this winter at Middletown Ice World, which opened in July, this winter. The Lions and Eagles will be the only high school teams using the rink as their home ice.
“It’s definitely special to have teams come into our town to play us now,” said Stan Gutt, Middletown South ice hockey coach. “Hopefully, it’s going to give us an advantage. We’re going to be playing and practicing there, so we’re definitely hoping for an added advantage.”
Middletown North ice hockey coach Matt Clemente agreed.
“It’s going to be cool to play in our own building and have our own home rink,” Clemente said. “It’s a lot closer to the school, so hopefully, we can have a better student turnout at the rink, without a doubt.”
Both coaches stressed the importance of playing closer to the schools for a more convenient commute to games and practices.
“Ice time has never been a problem for us at Wall,” Gutt said. “We’re going to practice at the same time, around 3 p.m. after school, but the biggest thing is being able to get the kids to practice quicker. Now, they aren’t going to have to drive a half hour to get there.”
“It definitely takes the pressure off the moms and dads to get their kids to practice twice a week,” Clemente said. “Now, it’ll take 5 minutes to get there and kids can take care of what they need to.
“Guys usually wander on the ice around 5 or 10 minutes late for practice, but now we won’t have to worry about who’s driving them or how long it takes to get to the rink.”
Excluding North and South, Jersey Shore Arena was a home rink to 13 other varsity ice hockey programs last season.
“I can say the ice is a lot better (at Middletown Ice World) than it is in Wall,” Clemente said. “The locker rooms are nicer and bigger. There’s more room to do off-ice teaching and workouts and the rink can hold a lot more people.
“Wall wasn’t exactly in great condition, but (Middletown Ice World) is state of the art. It’s beautiful, and it’s 3 minutes from home.”
Middletown Ice World will play host to the Mayor’s Cup between Middletown North and Middletown South this winter – a game that annually draws sellout crowds from both fan bases.
“I can’t even imagine what the first North-South game is going to be like there this year,” Gutt said. “It’s going to be similar to the Thanksgiving Day football game between the two schools.”
Even with a new rink, Clemente wasn’t convinced that it would add even more fuel to the rivalry.
“These kids have been playing against each other for 10 or 12 years by now,” Clemente said. “That rivalry is going to be there. I’m sure the first time we play there it will be exciting, but I’m not sure the atmosphere can change that much.”
Both coaches are hoping that a new home rink will add to the teams’ prestige as a pair of legitimate public programs in New Jersey.
“It’s nice to have our hometown rink and for teams to have to come into Middletown,” Gutt said. “To have people come into our town is special.”
“That’s great that it’s right in our hometown,” Clemente echoed. “Hopefully, teams will come in and see a new building and get a little jealous. But, the building won’t give us wins, we still have to go out and earn them.”
Middletown Ice World at 214 Harmony Road, Middletown, is open while finishing touches are being completed. The rink, which is open daily for public skating and hockey, will hold several programs over the next few months. The arena is also a home to a fall house hockey league that will open on Sept. 3 for teams with players under 14 years of age.
For more information on the rink, visit its website at www.middletownnjsportscomplex.com or call 732-856-9700.