By Mike Gurnis
WEST ORANGE — Delbarton knew the push was coming.
After a hectic opening minutes of the game which saw the Green Wave score back-to-back goals to take a 2-1 lead after surrendering the game’s first goal, Delbarton took that lead into the third period, knowing full well that a high-powered Don Bosco offense was going to throw anything and everything towards Delbarton netminder Jason Cai.
As he has virtually all season, Cai delivered.
The junior netminder finished with 28 saves, including 13 in the third period, to propel second-seeded Delbarton to a 2-1 win over third-seeded Don Bosco Prep in the NJSIAA Non-Public semifinals at Codey Arena.
The win advanced Delbarton to Monday’s Non-Public state championship game, where it will take on top-seeded Christian Brothers at the Prudential Center in Newark at 8 p.m. It marked the first title game appearance for the Green Wave since losing to Don Bosco in the final in 2019.
“It’s been rough the last few years, not being able to go back (to the Rock),” Jack Olsen said. “Really hard for the seniors especially, it’s been four or five years- I’m not really sure- but it’s really great to be back at the Rock.”
It also was a bit of payback for Delbarton, which lost a heartbreaker to Don Bosco in a shootout just two weeks ago in the Gordon Cup semifinals.
“We definitely had some bad blood,” Cai said. “It was a hell of a game from both teams. My team obviously played great in front of me, and we got out of it with a win.”
Delbarton found itself behind the 8-ball 1:56 into the game, when Don Bosco’s Kenny Kalman got his team on the board, giving it a 1-0 lead.
It didn’t take long for the Green Wave to respond, however. Jack Fidicaro scored 1:41 later to tie it up, before Jack Olsen buried what proved to be the game-winner 36 seconds after that.
After that, it was all about Cai and the Delbarton defense. Cai, who has a .957 save percentage to his name this season, has turned heads around the state with his numbers and has come through time and time again. So, it certainly came as no surprise that he was able to shut the door in this one despite a furious push from Don Bosco.
“He’s on a whole other level. When we talk about some of the best goaltenders that I’ve seen come through here, he’s in the argument and he may be the best one,” Delbarton coach Bruce Shatel said. “He’s got a real bright future ahead of him. We have a lot of confidence in him.
Shatel continued, with a laugh: “Sometimes, I think too much confidence in him. I wish it wasn’t the Jason Cai highlight reel every night we play. But he manages to make to make sparklers every day.”
The task got even taller for Delbarton late in the second period, when its leading scorer in Trip Pendy was injured after colliding with a teammate while attempting a break-out on the power play. He did not return for the rest of the game, and his status is unclear for Monday’s state championship game.
Losing an offensive threat like him can be devastating to any team, but fortunately the Green Wave had the depth to make up for it, along with the motivation to win for their teammate.
“Trip’s a really big leader on our team, and he’s been a really big leader since freshman year,” Olsen said. “He’s definitely somebody we wanted to rally behind and do it for Trip. We just wanted to get it done for him.”
Shatel said of the injury, “I think it was innocent, friendly fire. It’s unfortunate, and it happens sometimes. He’s one of our leaders, one of our go-to guys. I thought our guys played courageously after he left, but they didn’t play well. But they dug in and got pucks out, and really were defensive-minded. I told the group to make sure that Trip gets good news later on when he hears about the game.”
DBP — Kenny Kalman (Cooper Snee, Joseph Bossolina) 13:04
DEL — Jack Fidicaro (Dan D’Alessandro, Hayden Bright) 11:23
DEL — Jack Olsen (Timmy Galvin, Billy Crutchlow) 10:47
Shots on goal: Don Bosco Prep 29, Delbarton 22
Saves: Jason Cai (Delbarton) 28, Ethan Marich (Don Bosco) 5, James Tarabocchia (Don Bosco) 15
Team records: Delbarton 19-5-2, Don Bosco Prep 20-7-1