By Mike Gurnis
STOCKHOLM — Delbarton’s top line shined early. Its depth helped put the game away late.
The Green Wave, who have experienced a resurgence this season after going 13-15-4 in the last two seasons, have relied on a deep and balanced lineup, combined with outstanding goaltending all season. That once again came through on Wednesday night, when it pulled away late to secure a 6-1 win over Pope John at Skylands Ice World.
Five different players found the back of the net for Delbarton in the game, with sophomore Max Pendy netting two goals- which happened to be the first two of the game in the opening five minutes to build a 2-0 lead.
Pendy was added to the team’s top line for this game, which already included his brother, Trip, and junior Nick Faccone. That line adjustment paid dividends immediately as that line controlled play early in the game and gave the Green Wave a lead which it never surrendered.
“To be honest with you, that’s the first time we’ve played those guys together,” Delbarton coach Bruce Shatel said. “Trip and Nick have played together consistently this year. We thought Max might give us a little bit of a shot in the arm, putting him on that line, and fortunately it worked out.”
Max Pendy added, “We obviously move the puck well. We all know where each other is, so it makes it a lot easier.”
It looked as if Delbarton was perhaps going to run away with this game early, but Pope John’s Nathan Meola capitalized on a breakaway just over three minutes later to cut it to 2-1.
Early in the second period, James Royse made a cross-ice pass to a wide-open Duncan Stewart in the left circle who deposited the puck into an open net to extend the advantage to two. Pope John, led by its goaltender in Tyler Paluzzi, did all it could to stay in the game despite spending most of the game in the defensive zone.
It appeared Pope John was going to have an opportunity to make it a game in the opening minutes of the third when it earned its only power play opportunity of the game. But Royse made a perfect feed to Jack Genovese in the slot who finished it off to make it a 4-1 game.
The shorthanded goal gave the team a spark in the third period, which saw Jack Fidicaro net his first of the season and Julian Brown bury his second to put the game well out of reach.
“It was huge,” Royse said of the shorthanded goal. “It was still a pretty close game coming into the third at 3-1. It was just good to kind of open up the gap a little bit more and kind of just build off from there and get a couple more in. So, that was big for us.”
Not to be lost in the story of the game was the performance of senior goalie Austin Kramer. Junior Jason Cai has been spectacular all season, sporting a .953 save percentage with six shutouts. Shatel opted to give Cai the night off in favor of Kramer with upcoming games against Brunswick (Conn.) on Friday and rival Don Bosco Prep on Sunday.
Kramer put together a very solid performance in just his second start of the year, stopping 15 of 16 shots and making a couple of key saves throughout while the game was still in doubt.
“Austin’s a hard-working kid, he earned the start tonight and I thought he played exceptionally well,” Shatel said. “He made two or three sparklers for us. It was his game and we had a lot of confidence going into it that he would perform.”
The team’s depth is something that it hopes will provide an edge as it prepares for the upcoming Gordon Cup and NJSIAA Non-Public state tournament. The Green Wave have won nine of the past 13 Non-Public state titles, but are in search of their first Gordon Cup and Non-Public titles since the 2017-18 season.
Getting back to being one of the state’s elite teams this season has been due to the team’s combination of offensive depth, strong defense, and outstanding goaltending. That, combined with more buy-in from the players after being a relatively young team the past two seasons are big reasons why the team stands at 12-2-1 at this point.
“We’ve bought in to the way we play more, playing physical and playing like a team,” Royse said. “I think the last couple of years we’ve had too much individual type of play and recently we’ve gotten more into team play, playing physical, and playing for each other. I think that’s how we can be the team that we are, and that’s how we build back up to the way we’re supposed to play.”
Royse added, “I think it’s just sticking to what we do. I don’t think we need to change our game plan or anything. I think we need to be disciplined, go hard in practice every day, and don’t take any opponent lightly. I think every opponent we play is good, they’re going to play hard and they’re going to want to win. I think we just have to be disciplined and play hard, and we’ll do well the rest of the season.”
“Our work ethic has been great. I’d like to see us continue to grow on the special teams with our power play and our penalty kill. So much of playoff hockey is decided on special teams, so we have to make sure that we’re clicking in the next couple of weeks. We have some real tough games with Brunswick, Don Bosco, The Hill School, and Lawrenceville, so those are all going to be tight games. Hopefully we can continue to grow as a group.”– Delbarton coach Bruce Shatel on what he expects to see from his squad in the coming weeks.
First star: Max Pendy, Delbarton, F, So.- 2 goals
Second star: James Royse, Delbarton, F, Sr.- 2 assists
Third star: Austin Kramer, Delbarton, G, Sr.- 15 saves
DEL — Max Pendy (Billy Crutchlow) 13:06
DEL — Max Pendy (Trip Pendy) 10:42
PJ — Nathan Meola 7:13
DEL — Duncan Stewart (James Royse) 10:04
DEL — Jack Genovese (James Royse) 11:34 SHG
DEL — Jack Fidacaro (Duncan Stewart, Peter Lease) 7:26
DEL — Julian Brown (Peter Lease) 6:52
Shots on goal: Delbarton 33, Pope John 16
Saves: Tyler Paluzzi (Pope John) 26, Austin Kramer (Delbarton) 15
Team records: Delbarton 12-2-1, Pope John 4-5-6