Feb 19, 2019 | Ice Hockey, Ocean Township
FOLLOWING HEARTBREAKING LOSS IN DOWD CUP, OCEAN TOWNSHIP SETS SIGHTS ON STATE PLAYOFF RUN
By Mike Ready
OCEAN TOWNSHIP – The Ocean Township hockey team has had its best season on the ice since 2016 when that squad skated to a 15-10-2 record and qualified for both the Dowd Cup and state playoffs.
This year’s Spartans team is 13-6-3 and has recorded quality wins over Rumson-Fair Haven, Brick Township, Manalapan, Watchung Hills and Robbinsville and ties against West Windsor and Marlboro so far this season while qualifying for both the Dowd Cup and the state playoffs.
In the Dowd Cup, however, they were handed a disappointing 14th seed in the 16-team field, which resulted in a first-round match against No. 3 seed Marlboro, who was ranked fourth in the Shore Conference.
Marlboro was undefeated at 12-0-2 and was a heavy favorite against Ocean in the first round of the Dowd Cup, but the Spartans, who had skated to a 5-5 tie against Marlboro earlier this season, played some of their most inspired hockey of the season, falling just short in an emotional 4-3 overtime defeat to the Mustangs.
“It was kind of a heartbreaking loss, but it was certainly one of our better performances of the year,” said head coach Dave Smith. “We were a little disappointed with the 14th seed knowing we played Marlboro to a tie earlier in the year. So, as much as much as I didn’t think it was an appropriate first-round matchup, it certainly wasn’t anything we feared. With all due respect to them, they were obviously an undefeated team, but we just knew we could play alongside them and that it was borne out by the fact that it took them seven periods to break the tie. The ironic thing is that the matchup was a very even one, which is unusual when a 14-seed plays a three.”
Ninth-seeded Ocean now turns its attention to the NJSIAA Public A tournament and will meet eighth-seeded South Brunswick (11-5-3) on Wednesday afternoon, Feb. 20.
The Spartan are looking for their first state playoff win since 2014, when they went 18-6-4 and beat River Dell, 5-0, and Ridge, 3-1, before losing to fourth-seeded and eventual champion Morris Knolls, 2-0, in the Public A tournament.
That season, Ocean also picked up its first-ever Dowd Cup win, beating Jackson Memorial, 2-1, before dropping a 2-1 decision to Red Bank Catholic in the quarterfinals.
To date, those are Ocean Township’s only postseason victories in the program’s relatively brief 10-year history.
In 2009, a parent organization lead by Lori Lane, the mother of player Nick Lane, initiated a movement to bring varsity boys ice hockey to Ocean Township. At that time the school had little involvement in the team that was run by the parent organization which supervised the team and was responsible for the decision-making process in all matters concerning the team.
Smith, who had started the successful hockey program at Rumson-Fair Haven and coached there for nine years, was hired as head coach for the Spartans’ inaugural season in 2010 and is still behind the bench today.
Smith’s teams won 11 and 16 games, respectively, in the first two years of the program and made the playoff cut both seasons before falling in first-round games.
“The kids bought in,” said Smith of posting winning seasons his first two years. “I came there with a system and had done it before, making the states my first year at RFH, so I told everybody that this is what we’re going to do and we had enough talent and buy-in to do it.”
At that point in time, however, the school did not fund the team, so it was a pay-for-play sport that was partially subsidized by fundraising efforts and donations.
In 2012, Shore Regional joined in a cooperative relationship with Ocean Township that still exists today and last season Monmouth Regional was added.
“The players we have participating from Monmouth are great kids and have fit in seamlessly just the way the Shore kids did early on,” said Smith. “If you watch the players interact you would never know which kids are from what school – they’ve become a family.”
Eventually, in 2014, the Spartan Booster Club got involved and fully funded the program, turning over the majority of responsibility for the team to the Ocean Township High School Athletic Department, headed by athletic director Rusty Todd, who still holds the position today.
“In 2014 we had a particularly strong year with such a group of overachievers that actually captured everybody’s heart both at Ocean and at Shore,” said Smith. “I think the karma around that team had something to do with the board which, truly in their wisdom, saw that the team was really representing the fabric of their respective schools so we then got sanctioned to be fully supported by the school, as did Shore.”
Smith, who picked up his 200th win as a head coach earlier this season, brought on former Point Pleasant Boro head coach Mike Ryan as an associate head coach in charge of the defense in 2015, giving the Spartans two of the brightest hockey minds in the Shore to guide them.
“Mike was a very successful coach at Pt. Boro and we just think so much alike and enjoy each other’s company,” said Smith. “I look at him as my co-coach and bounce everything off him and he’s equally or more capable than me and that’s such a privilege.”
Second-team All-Division forward Dylan Haar leads the team in scoring with 37 goals and 13 assists and heads up the red line along with sophomore right wing Ryan Convery (5 goals, 4 assists) and junior center Patrick Brannen (3 goals, 12 assists).
“We don’t refer to our lines as first, second and third. Our lines are colors and sometimes during the season you may move from one line to another,” said Smith.
Sophomore Kenny Maxwell, a first-team All-Division pick last season, is second on the team in scoring with 34 goals and 19 assists and fills the right-wing spot on the white line along with senior left wing Eli Perelshteyn (16 assists) and junior center Luke Hagerman (6 goals, 7 assists).
As opposed to last season when Haar and Maxwell skated on the same line, Smith has his two stars skating on separate lines this season.
“Last year we felt we needed them to play together because honestly we only had nine skaters,” said Smith. “So, we didn’t have a lot of room for moving things around. This year with the addition of Monmouth and some really good returning players, we had some options. We separated Dylan and Kenny because they are both such serious threats to score it give us two really dangerous lines.
“Dylan is the offensive character of the red line for sure, but he’s also bought into our defensive system as well, which is important because he wants to have a career in hockey beyond high school and he knows he can’t just be a one-dimensional player,” Smith continued.
However, Smith combines Haar and Maxwell on the power play line to maximize their chances of scoring with his two top guns.
Senior Brendan Convery (1 goal, 6 assists) heads up one defensive pairing along side junior Nick Ciancia (2 assists) while juniors Scott Sirianni (1 goal, 15 assists) and Rich Canneto (3 goals, 2 assists) make up the other pairing with Convery and Sirianni skating on the power play. Freshman P.J. Schwartz has impressed and has forced his way onto the ice on defense as well.
“I wouldn’t really say that we have a first pair and a second pair,” said Smith. “We have four top defensemen.”
Freshman goalie Tony Macaluso stepped into the starting role and hasn’t looked back. He’s recorded 278 saves on 343 shots on goal for a 0.81 save percentage.
Ocean Township hasn’t won a state playoff game since that overachieving 2014 team won the program’s only two playoff games in program history.
“We talk about that a lot,” said Smith of the playoff-win drought, “Our first two goals this year were to qualify for the Shore Conference Tournament (Dowd Cup) and qualify for the states and we did both of those things. Then the idea was we want to advance at least a round in each. We came up a little short in the SCT, but maybe we can go two rounds in the states or maybe three. I told the players when you get on a roll, magical things can happen because at the end of the day they’re all high school players.”