NEWARK – Before Middletown North’s state championship against Ramsey, Lion head coach Matt Clemente was trying to keep his team loose.
“[We] like to keep the kids joking and laughing,” Clemente said. “We didn’t talk about hockey, [I] said if you guys don’t know what to do by now, we’re at Game 27, you know what forecheck, you know what our defense is.”
Middletown North knew exactly how to play against Ramsey on Monday night, limiting the Rams offense and star forward Alex Whelan en route to a 5-4 victory.
The Lions limited Whelan to two goals, the first two for Ramsey.
“My hat goes off to him, he’s one of the best high school players I’ve ever seen in New Jersey, he got his couple points but we were able to keep the rest of those guys off the board,” Clemente said.
“We knew he’d get a couple of points, but we figured if he had a four or five point night would be very difficult for us to overcome.
“We shut him down.”
Timmy Felice scored first for Middletown North, but the game saw an exchange of goals and leads until the second, when Khristian Acosta gave the Lions a 4-3 lead. Bobby Hampton scored late in the second to give Middletown North a 5-3 lead. Hampton finished with two goals, including the eventual game winner.
“In the locker room between the second and third those guys, they weren’t celebrating yet they knew they still had 15 minutes of work ahead of them,” Clemente said. “They did what they had to do. [I’m] so proud of them.”
In an effort to tie the game, Ramsey threw what they could at Anthony Manfredi. But he kept the Rams out of the net, until 46 seconds remained in regulation.
“I think the first goal kind of woke him up a little bit from that crazy angle kind of got him in the game,” Clemente said.
“He really settled in from there shut them down and their high powered offense.”
Aside from Whelan, Garrett Mast and Brandon O’Callahan also scored for Ramsey. Vincent Tomasetti also scored for the Lions, who won their first state championship.
“What a great turnout from our fan base, the students getting up here, really supporting us,” Clemente said.
“We’re just really happy to bring a state championship to Middletown North and to all the people that really believed that we can do it.”