WALL – Top-seeded Saint John Vianney scored seven unanswered goals after fourth-seeded Middletown South took a 2-0 lead with 6:40 left in the second period and the Lancers went on to beat the Eagles, 7-2, at the Jersey Shore Arena in Wall.
The win gave Saint John Vianney its second Handchen Cup championship in program history and first since they beat St. Rose in the 2013 final.
Last season as the No. 2 seed, Saint John Vianney lost to third-seeded Wall, 3-1, in the Dowd Cup championship game and that loss left them with an empty feeling that has given impetus to one of the most successful season the program has ever had.
“We lost to Wall in the Down Cup final 365 days ago, so that’s been stinging me and us for a long time,” said Lancers head coach Mike Messemer. “I really wanted this one. I was fortunate enough as a player to win two Handchen Cups, so this is my third and first as a coach. I told the guys, ‘If you’re going to do one thing for me, do this for me.’ We didn’t want to go to the championship game and lose two years in a row. Our goal is to win as many championships as possible.”
This is actually the second cup title of the season for the Lancers, after they beat No. 1 seed St. Josephs (Montvale), 3-1, as the second seed in the Eagan Cup.
Middletown South’s Nick Lioudakis scored with 21 seconds left in the first period and Deven Ralph pushed the lead to 2-0 with 6:40 remaining in the second period before the roof fell in on the Eagles.
Finding themselves in a 2-0 hole despite mostly controlling play early, the Lancers stayed the course and it eventually paid off. Joe Zani got the Lancers rolling scoring a minute after Ralph’s goal with 5:23 left in the second period and John Gutt followed with his first goal 46 seconds later to tie the game at 2-2.
Entering the third period, SJV now had all the momentum and it showed on the ice as they took complete control of the game and exploded for four goals in the first five minutes of the final frame for a commanding 6-2 lead with 10:06 remaining in the game.
A little over a minute into the third, junior John Gelatt broke the tie converting off assists from Gutt and John Kennedy. Senior Brett Schneider followed a minute later to push the score to 4-2 before Gelatt and Gutt each netted their second goals of game for a four-goal lead, 6-2.
“It was definitely momentum,” said Gelatt. “We had a lot of chances early; we just needed to bury them. Once we started to relax and after we put that first one in by Joe and John scored the shift after there was a big momentum change. In the third, we just finally buried our chances, and that’s what it came down to, to help us win the game. Last year we lost in the Dowd Cup final so we had to get revenge this year. It feels great.”
Gutt ripped his third and final goal of the game completing his hat trick with 1:42 left scoring on a power play as both Schneider and Gallat picked up their fourth assist of the game on the play.
“After we got that first goal and then tied the game, that really helped us,” Gutt said. “That gave us momentum and we’ve been having great third periods all season long. Talking in the locker room before the third period, we just told everybody to play their game, and that was it.”
Saint John Vianney received 20 saves from Jeremy Connor as he went on to shutout Middletown South the final 23:20 of the game.
UPDATE: After receiving a bye as the No. 8 seed in the NJSIAA Non-Public tournament, the Lancers were upset by ninth-seeded Pope John, 5-4, in the second round. Meanwhile, fifth-seeded Middletown South advanced to the Public B quarterfinals before falling to fourth-seeded Livingston, 5-4, putting an end to both teams’ seasons.