It’s more than a rivalry this time around. For the first time in recent years, the midseasonmatch up between Brick Memorial and Brick Township high schools slated for Jan. 11 at the Ocean Ice Palace pitted two teams enjoying great starts that are likely to qualify for the NJSIAA Tournament.
Both made it last year and ended their seasons in the NJSIAA Public School quarterfinals. But the solid start by both teams make it a likely bet that they will return this year, which adds some bite to the cross-town showdown.
“The boys have a lot of hustle and are working together as a team,” said Brick Township coach Bob Auriemma, whose team came into the week with a 7-0-2 mark. “They need to stay out of the penalty box and play solid defense.”
Brick Township’s Green Dragons remained unbeaten after a 3-3 tie against Red Bank Catholic on Jan. 8. Red Bank scored the equalizer in the final minute. The Dragons walloped Toms River East, 11-1, earlier last week.
They succeed with the reliable goaltending of Ed Rafferty and Dylan Beaver, who are alternating starts in the nets, and the balanced scoring of Ryan Graf, Connor Noonan, Mike Auriemma, Brendan Dowd and Matt Gumina and defensemen Patrick Kearns, Brian Murphy and Tyler Martin. Graf has been playing with a bruised knee.
Brick Memorial, meanwhile, comes into the week with an 8-3 record that includes a 4- 3 victory over Middletown South, the team that beat the Mustangs in the Handchen Cup finals by the same 4-3 score last season.
“I think we’re playing pretty good hockey,” coach Chip Bruce said. “We played pretty well defensively against Middletown South. I’m pleased with where we are.”
Adam Person scored with :16 left in the second period for a 4-2 lead over Middletown South. Anthony Lobianco scored his teamleading 16th goal, and Sean Hogan connected for his first of two goals for a 2-0 first-period lead. Middletown South pulled to 2-1 before Hogan struck again with less than two minutes left for a 3-1 lead. Middletown South made it 3-2 when Person struck for his key goal. Kevin Talty made 26 saves and has been steady in goal with defensive support from Jason Franceschini and Tom Lindquist.
“The boys are ready,” said Bruce, whose team is off after Monday’s game until next Monday afternoon, when they host Toms River East. “If we play good solid hockey for three periods, we do well.”
There were times in the past when the Mustangs had lapses that left them shorthanded in breakouts by opposing teams and costly penalties in losses. But the Mustangs have minimized those problems and have won their last three games.