MANASQUAN – Sometimes you just go to a hockey game and end up experiencing the unexpected.
Back on Feb. 20 at Jersey Shore Arena, the Manasquan/Point Pleasant Beach hockey co-op defeated Saint John Vianney, 4-3 to, earn the program its third consecutive Shore Conference Dowd Cup championship.
Another year. Another title. Nothing that anyone in the stands hasn’t seen before. This year however, saw an ending no one could have seen coming.
Chris Farinacci collected the puck near the boards at his own line with the final seconds counting down. The Dowd Cup seemed destined to be decided in a sudden-death overtime period. Everyone started to shift their focus to the upcoming extra 15 minutes. Everyone but Farinacci.
Farinacci gathered the puck and clapped a slapshot from just inside his own blueline. It was a low percentage shot, destined to miss the net or at the very least, be brushed aside by the goaltender. The chances were low, but nowhere did it say impossible.
The puck skipped across the ice and might have tipped off a skate or leg in front on its way toward the goal. Nevertheless, it found the twine, giving Manasquan a 4-3 lead with only 1.7 seconds flashing on the clock.
“I was just trying to fire it on net,” Farinacci said. “I was hoping for a tip or something and it ended going right in.”
The goal sealed a hard fought victory for the Warriors, culminating in their third straight Dowd Cup in the most thrilling ending imaginable.
Farinacci’s goal made national headlines as well, being selected as the No. 3 play on ESPN’s Sportscenter’s Top 10 plays the next morning.
The magical moment would be for naught had Manasquan not battled hard for the opening 44:58 of the game. Luke McNamara opened the scoring late in the second period, but Saint John Vianney managed to hold a 2-1 lead until the later stages of the final frame.
Michael Farinacci finished off a play to tie the score up at 2-2 with 6:08 to play, before SJV took a penalty to give the Warriors a man advantage only 23 seconds after tying the game. Aidan Wiseman capitalized with the extra skater, putting Manasquan ahead with just 5:21 remaining in the contest.
Colin Gartz tied the game for the Lancers with only 37 seconds remaining and the goalie pulled. The life was seemingly deflated out of Manasquan, but Farinacci’s dramatics in the waning moments proved otherwise.
“This team is like a family and they will go through anything for each other,” Manasquan head coach Adam Houli said. “The opportunity for a three-peat of Dowd Cups is a tremendous feat and it couldn’t have happened without this tremendous group of kids.”
It’s a funny game. Sometimes the bounces go your way, and sometimes it seems a wide open net is impossible to hit. For Manasquan, a little luck doesn’t take away from the hard work that went into reaching this moment.
“We’ve been on the wrong end of a lot of bounces this season, but we did enough that night to come out on the right side of one of those crazy bounces,” Houli said. “Sometimes you can play a perfect game and the puck takes some crazy deflection and you fall short.”
Manasquan started slow out of the gate, holding a record of 2-3-0 after their opening five games of the season. They would end the season on a 16-game unbeaten streak on a 12-0-4 record, but ultimately succumbed to top-seeded Summit in the semifinals of the NJSIAA Public C state tournament.
Manasquan captured its third straight Shore Conference championship, but their fortunes in the state tournament have not been friendly to the Warriors. This year, the program finally got the monkey off its back, notching a state tournament win – the first in the history of the program.
“We have a lot of depth and role guys on this team, and everyone is accepting of that role that they are asked to play,” Houli said after their March 2 victory over RFH. “Tonight was a great example of how this team gels together. So many kids that aren’t going to show up on the stat sheet made an impact tonight.”
Mike Franzoni led all scorers with 53 points this year, and fellow senior Luke McNamara contributed 39. The Warriors will lose both to graduation, but return high profile scorers in Wiseman (28 points) and Anthony Dowd (38 points), not to mention the role players and depth that have helped carry the load this season as well.
Conall Dougherty took over in the crease and has stood tall against some high powered offenses in pressure filled games as a sophomore.
“Regardless of how the season ends, we are happy with the development that we have undergone as a program this season,” Houli said. “The titles and the accolades are always great, but none of these kids are going to let them define the type of team we are.”
The Warriors will return to action next winter with some new faces, but make no mistake – Manasquan will once again contend for a Shore Conference championship.
Is a four-peat in the making for the Warriors? Only time will tell.