By Mike Ready


HOWELL – Top-seeded Manasquan/Pt. Pleasant Beach checked off another box of things they want to accomplish this season beating No. 11 seed Middletown North, who upset third-seeded Marlboro, 2-1, in Tuesday’s semifinals, 7-1 to capture their second straight Dowd Cup championship and third in program history. 


Having already clinched their second straight Shore Conference Central Division championship, the undefeated (19-0) Warriors – ranked 15th in the state – bulldozed their way through the Dowd Cup field outscoring their opponents by a combined score of 27-2 to check box number two.


“We set a team goal to make a statement in the tournament and obviously we played well throughout and had all our wheels turning the right way,” said Manasquan head coach Adam Houli. “Entering the season we did set our sights on winning our division, winning the Dowd Cup and obviously now the third part is to make a deep run into the states. I’m certainly happy but I wouldn’t say satisfied quite yet.”


Manasquan was given a disappointing fifth seed in the NJSIAA Public Group C bracket where they attempted to win their first state playoff game in program history in a rematch of the Dowd Cup final when they faced off with No. 12 seed Middletown North on Monday, Feb. 18.


Last year’s 15-3-1 team qualified for the state playoffs for the first time since 2012, but came up short as the 11th seed in the NJSIAA Public C bracket, losing to sixth-seeded Mahwah, 5-0, in the second round after receiving a bye in the first round.


“Last year we were disappointed in how we went out in the states in the first round,” said Houli. “Obviously a big thing for us is to get over that hurdle, win a state game and move forward. I have a good group here that’s been through a lot of downs early in their careers and now they’ve been through a lot of ups, so when you head into the states, obviously, anything can happen, but if you have a team that’s kind of experienced it all like they have, it makes you a little bit deadlier.”


Wednesday night Manasquan had seven different players score a goal apiece which is a testament to the depth of the team which is a driving force behind their success this season.  


Juniors Mike and Matt Franzoni, senior Aiden Tolnai, senior Alec Wells, Brendan Kearney, junior Hunter Alia and junior Luke Sepe all tallied one goal for the Warriors. Mike Franzoni added two assists to lead the team offensively, while senior goalie Steven Gibilisco turned away all but one of Middletown North’s 25 shots.


“Our depth is something I talk about after every game,” said Houli. “I roll four lines, I roll six D and I rotate my goalies. I don’t know if there’s any other state teams that do that consistently where my top line maybe at the end of the game has one or two more shifts than my bottom line. So, I think that our depth is going to show how far we can go with this thing. We have the right players in the right spots and have our top line that can put the puck in the net at will. Then we have our roll guys that fill in some minutes for our top guys creating some energy and buzz that way. I think our depth is something that is a tremendous asset of ours and certainly something we’ll look to use in the states.”


On Houli’s top line is Mike Franzoni (31 goals, 28 assists) on the left wing, junior Luke McNamara (9 goals, 24 assists) at center and on McNamara’s right, Mike’s brother Matt (31 goals, 19 assists).


On the second line is Tolnai (25 goals, 12 assists) on the left wing, senior Ryan Scott (10 goals, 12 assists) at center and junior Michael Farinacci (six goals, 15 assists) on the right wing.


Houli’s all-junior third line consists of Sepe (2 goals, 3 assists) on the left wing, Liam Stark (1 goal, 4 assists) in the middle and Jake Brown (5 goals, 3 assists) on the right, while James Conti (1 goal, 4 assists) is at center, on his right is Shea Keating (2 goals, 5 assists) and on the left Trevor Well (3 goals, 2 assists), Sean Rogers (1 assists) and Braden Ryan rotate on the fourth line.


On the backend, Anthony Dowd (1 goal, 3 assists) pairs with Alia (1 goal, 4 assists); Chris Farinacci pairs with senior Liam Farrington and the last pairing is Kearney with Wells.


In the nets, Gibilisco and Ryan O’Leary split time, with Gibilisco posting a 0.896 save percentage and O’Leary 0.872.


“We’re young back there but we move the puck well,” said Houli. “We’re not afraid to push the pace a little bit to get up ice and our goaltenders do their jobs.”


The Warriors are a tight-knit group with excellent communication skills on and off the ice between the players who understand what it took to get here and who value the comradery between each other that extends way beyond the rink.


“The team is very, very close; very, very tight,” said Houli when asked about team leadership. “They all respect their different roles. They look up to the Franzonis and those guys who put the puck in the net for us, then they look to guys like Liam Farrington who’s a steady defenseman who has been there a long time. I guess I would say our senior class as a whole they look up to – guys like Farrington, Tolnai and Wells. Because those are the guys who when they were freshmen were on the other end of games when they were losing 10-0 and 12-0 and now they (underclassmen) get to reap the rewards of having a very good team around them.”


Manasquan enters the playoffs cautiously optimistic about their chances while at the same time trying to manage any pressure of getting that first state playoff win.


“I think we’re confident yet reserved,” said Houli. “A bit anxious in a good way, a bit nervous in a good way. We know we’re good, they know we’re good. But as you know, no one in Manasquan history has won a game in states, so if we can get over the hump we’ll be in good shape and I think we have a confident group heading into the states.”

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