Coming into this game, both teams knew they were going to have their hands full. The first time these teams met this season, Middletown North got a convincing 4-1 win on the road. With a 6-5 final score this time around, it is safe to say this game was a lot more competitive. In a game with double digit goals, it was a controversial empty net goal that proved to be the game-winner.
Kevin Felice of Middletown North committed a tripping penalty with 2:18 left in the game, giving Howell a power play for the majority of the time remaining. This gave the Rebels a chance to tie the game, as they trailed 5-4.
About halfway through the power play, Howell decided to pull their goalie in order to create a six-on-four opportunity. With 1:06 to go in the game, Bobby Hampton came up with the empty net goal that was ultimately the game-winner. The reason it is controversial is because Howell got a fifth goal with 8.5 seconds left in the game from Ryan Damelio.
“I think every coach in the United States and Canada would have pulled their goalie in that situation,” said Middletown North head coach Matt Clemente.
Before those goals occurred, defenseman John Hallard was the hero for the Lions, getting his second goal of the game from the blue line with 6:55 to go in the third period that put them up 5-4.
“I just threw it on net and it went in,” said Hallard. “It felt good.”
From the very beginning of this game, Middletown North came to play. Their first goal came off of a delayed penalty with 11:57 to go in the first period that was scored by Ryan Davidson after passing the puck around and keeping it away from Howell for over a minute.
“We were winning the puck battles, we weren’t giving it to them (Howell), we were finding the open man, moving it around outside, making them chase it a little bit, and Davidson put it on net,” noted Clemente.
However, Howell fought back every time Middletown North looked like they were going to pull away. Zach Turcotte scored less than a minute after Davidson’s goal to tie the game. When Kevin Felice scored for the Lions to put them up 2-1, the Rebels responded with two goals from Louie Kuka to put them up 3-2.
But, every time Howell fought back, Middletown North answered. After Kuka’s two goals, the Lions got two of their own in the second period from Khristian Acosta and John Hallard.
The Lions are a team known for their star players Acosta and Hampton, but in this game, they got goals from five different players and three goals from defenseman.
“If teams want to focus on stopping those two, we have other guys who can put the puck in the net,” said Clemente. “We are more than just those two guys.”
With this win, Middletown North gets their second over Howell this season and improves to a 9-1 record, with their only loss coming against CBA.
“We’re a great team,” said Hallard. “We have a lot of talent up front, in the back, and our goalie is great. This win will give us momentum going into Friday’s game against Montclair.”
Howell falls to an 8-5 record and will play their next game at home on Friday at 5:30 against Cranford. Middletown North will go on the road Friday to face Montclair at 8:15.