By Mike Gurnis
An upstart Bergen Catholic squad which was coming off a pair of upset wins against the No. 4 and No. 3 teams in the state thus far in the state tournament was all that stood between Delbarton and a return trip to the Non-Public state final.
For two-plus periods, the 11th-seeded Crusaders, led by their goaltender Chris Branch, did all they could to have a shot at another upset. It took over 36 minutes for the Green Wave to solve Branch, but James Monahan’s power play goal with 8:42 left gave his team the lead for good and helped the second-seeded Green Wave earn a 2-0 win over Bergen Catholic in the NJSIAA/New Jersey Devils Non-Public semifinals at Codey Arena in West Orange.
Monahan scored both of Delbarton’s goals, including a key insurance goal with 2:14 left. Goaltender Brett Cleaves was perfect in net, as he stopped all 13 shots he faced to secure the shutout.
The win moved Delbarton to its fifth-straight Non-Public final, where it will take on top-seeded Don Bosco Prep for the third-straight year on Monday at 8:45 p.m. at the Prudential Center in Newark. Delbarton has won the title for three consecutive years, and will look to make it a four-peat against a squad that it has yet to beat in three tries this season. Don Bosco topped fourth-seeded Gloucester Catholic, 4-1 in the other semifinal.
Throughout the game, Delbarton controlled the possession, and had the puck in the offensive zone for a large majority of the second period. But Branch stood in the way, as he stopped all 19 shots he faced through two periods, and stopped 29 of the 31 shots overall.
The momentum firmly swung in Delbarton’s favor in the third, right when Ben Conrod was slashed by BC’s Tommy Kleinman on a breakaway, giving Delbarton a key power play opportunity. Then, just as the power play was about to expire, Monahan put home the rebound of Conrod’s shot for what proved to be the game-winner.
Monahan’s goal with 2:14 left was assisted by Michael Balzarotti, and came on a shot from the right circle which found its way past Branch.
DEL — James Monahan (Ben Conrod, Tim Royse) PPG 8:42
DEL — James Monahan (Michael Balzarotti) 2:14
Shots on goal: Delbarton 31, Bergen Catholic 13.
Saves: Chris Branch (BC) 29, Brett Cleaves (DEL) 13.