By Brian Deakyne
RED BANK — All winter long, teams in Monmouth County fought each other to become the top team within their divisions and conference.
On Sunday night, many of those very teams and players joined forces as former Brick Township and New Jersey Devils forward Jim Dowd hosted the 15th-annual Monmouth-Ocean County all-star game.
The game, which benefited the FoodBank of both counties, and was sponsored by Dowd’s ‘Shoot for the Stars’ foundation, was held at Red Bank Armory, where Monmouth ousted Ocean, 8-5.
Monmouth County got goals from players from five different teams, including Christian Brothers Academy, Middletown South, Rumson-Fair Haven and Red Bank Catholic.
“It was a lot of fun. You get tired of those kids getting to beat you, it was fun to have them on the bench,” Middletown North head Matt Clemente, who coached the Monmouth County team, said. “We didn’t really have to do much. Just put them out there and put them in some lines.”
Monmouth County jumped out to a 5-1 lead after two periods after taking control offensively and getting offense from all four of their lines. CBA’s James Martello put the team on the board first, late in the opening period, when he took a pass and sped up the right wing, blasting a shot past Monsignor Donovan goalie Alex Mollicone. Mollicone got a good chunk on the shot, but the rebound squeaked past his right side and into the net.
Monmouth scored again, 51 seconds later, when Jimmy Burns took the puck from his defensive zone, dished a pass to Rumson’s Hunter Rotchford, who quickly gave it back to Burns and he slipped the puck into the net, easily, putting them on top, 2-0.
“I was coming down the side, and I saw Rotchford there and I dished it off. The defensemen stepped up, I found the lane and he made an unbelievable pass and I just slipped it through the goalie’s legs,” Burns said.
Monmouth was far from done.
They added to their offense in the second period, getting goals from Rotchford, Middletown South’s Chris Connor and Red Bank Catholic’s Trevor Grossman.
Rotchford took a pass in the slot from St. John Vianney’s Nick Saporito and beat Point Pleasant Borough goalie Nathaniel Bissey with 9:18 left in the second period, and Connor pounded in a rebound goal two minutes later, his first of two goals for Monmouth.
Grossman scored later in the second period as well, taking control of the puck off an offensive-zone faceoff and ripped it top-shelf to give Monmouth its biggest lead at 5-0.
Ocean County made a push over the final period, cutting into Monmouth’s lead and trimming it to 5-2, but the offense that made several Monmouth County teams so good over the winter months pushed them to victory.
Mike Stickle of RBC scored with just over six minutes remaining in the game to help Monmouth gain control of the game once again. Martello set the goal up by spinning past one defender, and Grossman found his Caseys’ teammate by throwing the puck through the crease, giving Stickle a wide-open net to finish the play.
Connor added his second goal of the night in the final minute, taking a pass in the slot and ripping his shot up high on Brick Memorial goalie Tim Schiess.
Ocean County got two third period goals from Brick’s Andrew Reiss, one from the Dragons’ David Kearns and one from Brick Memorial’s Nick Spinelli to attempt to rally on Monmouth, but it wasn’t enough.
Burns and Reiss were named MVP of the Monmouth and Ocean County teams, respectively.
“I’m happy to be here to see the extent that this game has grown,” Clemente, who played in the first two all-star games in 1998 and 1999 as a player at Christian Brothers Academy, said, ”Jim does a great job with it, with the charity, and these kids come out and they put on a good show.”
MC Led By Two Rivers In All-Star Game
Hockey season ended months ago, but for recent Middletown High School South graduate Jimmy Burns, hockey season really never ends.
That concept is why Burns, like many local seniors, will be continuing his hockey career after high school. And that’s why Sunday night, Burns was one of several hockey players who couldn’t get on the ice fast enough.
It was Burns, after all, that was named the Monmouth County most valuable player after its 8-5 win over Ocean County in the 15th meeting between the two counties since the all-star game began in 1998.
Burns, who was the captain and major factor in Middletown South’s deep run into the NJSIAA Public A state playoffs, scored the second goal for Monmouth County on Sunday, going end-to-end, and using Rumson-Fair Haven forward Hunter Rotchford as a guide on his way to an impressive goal where he displayed his speed, intelligence and quickness.
Middletown South zipped their way through the playoffs this winter, reaching the group semi-final for a second straight season. They were also named the Handchen Cup co-champions.
“It was fun. I was thinking about coming back out to this game and getting one more shot against those guys,” Burns said. “It was the last high school event of my career and I just wanted to come out and have a good time.”
Burns wasn’t the only Eagles player on the ice. Forwards Tyler Ralph and Chris Connor — both, who had breakout years in 2011-2012, also saw significant ice time in the win. Connor finished with two goals for Monmouth County.
Burns was one of many players who were in consideration for MVP honors, and getting named to the award even surprised him.
“It meant a lot to me,” he said. “I really wasn’t expecting that, but I’m happy with the team and how we played. It was a very, very fun game.”
Other local teams also had players in the game. Rumson-Fair Haven was supported by their captain, Gary Cali, along with Rotchford. Rotchford registered a goal and an assist, a year after he and Cali made history with the Bulldogs, as they won their first ever conference title, taking the Dowd Cup with a vengeance in late February.
“It was fun, and it was awesome to get out here with them all,” Rotchford said.
Red Bank Catholic was represented strongly in the game, as well. Trevor Grossman, who joined the 100-point club late in 2012, had a big impact, scoring a goal and adding an assist to help Monmouth’s cause. Forward Mike Stickle added a third-period goal to aid the team as well. Senior goalie Chet Tooker closed out the win for Monmouth, stopping 13 of the 17 shots he faced in the third period.
Christian Brothers Academy was given a strong showing, although that was to be expected, following its dramatic run to the NJSIAA non-public state final. James Martello set the tone early, scoring the games first goal in the opening period. Defensemen John Amato and R.J. Steer each had impressive game’s on the defensive end for Monmouth, as well.
Senior goalie Charlie Fox was the lone player from Red Bank Regional, though that shouldn’t take away from his performance. He was strong for the opening period, turning away all 11 shots he faced. The Bucs’ also made history this winter, as they reached the playoffs for the first time, and advanced to the semi-final of the Dowd Cup, where they fell to Rumson in overtime.
Defensemen Frank Rodriguez was the only player from Middletown North to play in the game, but he wasn’t the only Lion to be involved. The entire Middletown North coaching staff was behind the bench for Monmouth County, and that was where the winning attitude started.
“We’re competitive, and we wanted to win,” Middletown North head coach Matt Clemente, who coached the Monmouth team, said. “We talked about coming in here and winning, and the guys did it all. We didn’t really have to do much coaching, we were just hanging out.”
Clemente played in the game in the first two years, 1998 and 1999 as a player for CBA, and now, he got to earn a win as a coach, too.
“They were intense, and they didn’t treat this as an all-star game,” Clemente said of his team. “They came out hard, it was good to watch. As coaches, we talked about winning this game, and we were glad they did it.”
The win puts Monmouth County at an all-time record of 10-5 in the all-star game. Ocean County won last year, 5-3.