Mariners Setting Sail for State Tournament By Casey Krish

TOMS RIVER – There needs to be a sturdy ship, but it also takes a solid crew to keep it afloat. The Mariners from Toms River North are certainly capable of such a task.

A top-line that boasts a trio of talented scorers that gel together perfectly, Toms River North certainly can muster up enough cannonballs on deck to throw their enemies’ way.

It all starts with junior Cole Schneider – the New Jersey Devils Shore Conference Player of the Month for December – who leads the conference with 38 goals and 66 points entering the state tournament. The junior displays a natural ability to swiftly enter the zone and cause havoc for his counterparts.

He can strike quickly and often, as illustrated by a five-goal, seven-point night on Dec. 6. He also produced a seven-point effort on North’s Senior Night, a fitting conclusion to the Mariners’ home schedule.

Schneider currently resides at 184 career points, but was quick to credit his success to the help of those around him.

“It all starts with my teammates,” Schneider said. “Without the chemistry built with my line, I wouldn’t be in this position now.”

Opposing defenses know better than to place all their efforts to stop one player. After all, the top line is a powerful trio. Fellow junior Anthony DeFalco and senior Patrick Dowds round out a unit that lights the lamp and etches their name on the score sheet more often than any other line in New Jersey.

DeFalco – in his first year with the program – currently ranks in the top five in the state with 33 assists. His precision passing and ability to find open sticks on the ice is paramount to the unit clicking.

“I’ve been playing with Cole for a really long time,” DeFalco said. “We always know where each other will be. We just find a way to click. Once one goes in, they just seem to keep coming.”

DeFalco registered a career-high five assists on Feb. 10, and also has three four-point efforts on the year.

Dowds, the elder-statesman of the line, by far envelops an underrated role among the forwards. Dowds, who just recently committed to continue his hockey career at Ramapo College, doesn’t get the spotlight for scoring the fancy goals and producing gaudy numbers, but he plays an immense support role to those around him.

Being an upperclassmen, Dowds has carved out a support role for his younger line mates, while also understanding how they aid in his personal game as well.

“Playing with Cole and Anthony, I can sit back and watch the magic happen; clean up the ‘garbage’ goals when need be,” Dowds said. “Even sometimes playing with the younger guys I try and show them the ropes and help them learn the system. The seniors always try to play smart and set a good example for the younger guys.”

Toms River North fans can blush over the numbers put up by their top three forwards, but don’t be fooled – there is a tremendous supporting cast behind them.

With the focus on the offense, the Mariners line of defense has been stalking under the deck as one of the best in the Shore Conference.

Seniors Joe Lembo and Kevin Anderson have locked down opponents to a tune of just under three goals per game. Sophomore Cory van den Berg produced 14 points, proving to be a valuable asset that will provide some scoring depth for Toms River North.

Junior defensemen Justin Ervelli has a pair of four-point games on the season, and his 28 points are near the top of the list among all Shore Conference blueliners. Ervelli will be the lone senior among the core established on the back end.

Freshmen Jake Kurzynowski (nine points) and Steven Kapp (five points) provided sound contributions during their rookie seasons and should play a larger role in the years to come. Blaise Schoelen, DJ Freed and Jake Bennert notched some playing time under their belts as rookies, while Sydney Danyo scored a goal and an assist in her sophomore season.

Senior Brigette Maikisch found the score sheet on opening night and recently committed to Neumann University in Aston, PA.

The crew would not be complete without a strong anchor to keep the ship from floating astray. Toms River North is fortunate enough to have had two outstanding seniors in between the pipes this year.

Corey Finnegan, who just recently eclipsed 1000 saves during his career, has taken a heavy workload in his time in the crease, putting up a 46-, 48- and 51-save night this season. His 51-save performance on Dec. 26 was a career night for Finnegan, as the night developed into a 1-0 shutout victory over Southern Regional to book a date in the Winding River Holiday Tournament final.

Classmate Paul Fiorello has also taken his opportunities on the ice and ran with them. Appearing in nine contests this season, Fiorello has pitched three shutouts and has allowed two or fewer goals in seven of those appearances. Like Dowds, Fiorello recently announced he would be continuing his career at Ramapo College.

“There’s a great group of kids in that locker room,” DeFalco said. “We took a few tough losses to some great teams down the stretch, but it’s time to hit a reset and get ready for the tournaments.”

“We just have to keep working hard and not give up; keep playing our game. It’s a new season now heading into the playoffs,” Schneider added.

Toms River North suffered a setback in the opening round of the Shore Conference Dowd Cup, but still have their sights set on the NJSIAA Public B state tournament.

The Mariners’ days at sea are slowly dwindling away, but before the season draws to a close, there are a few more moments still to be had.

“There are some bonds that I’ve made here that will never be broken,” Dowds said of his four years in the Mariners’ navy and gold. “I’ve had the chance to play with some of my closest friends, and I’m ready for one final run with them.”

Toms River North awaits their seeding in the state tournament, which is scheduled to be released on Feb. 18. Regardless of what the future beholds, one thing is of certain. The Mariners will be eager to set sail.

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