Lions’ defense guides them to four wins to open 2012-13 season

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first_imgMiddletown High School South’s hockey team has stolen the thunder around town over the years, but Middletown High School North is making some noise this season in a 4-1 start.The Lions won their first four games, but they dropped a 5-1 loss to Freehold Township High School on Dec. 16 at Jersey Shore Arena in Wall when two starters were away with a travel team and the goalie suffered an injury.Prior to that, Middletown North rolled up a 21-8 goal-scoring margin while sweeping past Marlboro High School, Manalapan High School and Howell High School in a pair of victories over the traditionally strong Rebels.It’s not the level of competition a year ago, when Middletown North played the likes of powerhouses Red Bank Catholic High School and Brick Township High School while starting 1-3 and ending the season 7-14-1, but coach Matt Clemente sees some reassuring strides.“We were really young last year with five freshmen who played every game,” Clemente said. “We had no bench for them to learn. It was just, ‘Go out and play.’”“We’re looking forward to making noise in the Shore Conference. We’ve come out on fire,” said defenseman James Felice, one of the few seniors and one of three brothers on the team, along with sophomore Tim, a wing on the first line, and freshman Kevin, a backup forward. Sophomore Nick Kirch starts on defense with James.Five players graduated off last year’s team, including high-scoring Joe Dickinson, and the roster remains very young but a bit more experienced.How much they’ve grown will come to light this week when Middletown North plays Robbinsville High School on Dec. 19 at the Lawrenceville School and then a Dec. 23 game at 4 p.m. at Jersey Shore Arena against Christian Brothers Academy, Clemente’s alma mater before he went on to play junior hockey and then for Franklin Pierce College. Middletown North renews its Shore Conference A North rivalry with Middletown South at 6 p.m. on Jan. 6 at Jersey Shore Arena. Middletown South won last year’s games, first by a 6-3 score and then 13-4 at the Prudential Center. They may play again on Feb. 13 at the new arena in town, which is currently under construction and is nearing completion.“A lot of players have come into their own, like sophomore wing Tom Terranova and sophomore center Zach Gazette,” Clemente said. They’ll be on the second line with freshman Khristian Acosta, who Clemente said is one of the best shooters on the team.Joining Tim Felice on the first line is senior center Andrew Lipari, who leads the team with six goals, two of them shorthanded, and junior wing Scott Harker. They’ll look to make up for the loss of sophomore Craig Evans, the second leading scorer last season who is sidelined this season with a shoulder injury.“We’re getting scoring from everybody,” James Felice said. “The whole line is playing well together. And the freshmen are surprising.”Brendan Lipari, Andrew’s twin brother, is the goalkeeper. He had a .950 save percentage in the first four games. Penalty killing has been good, said Clemente, with only two shorthanded goals allowed in those first four games. The backup defensemen are senior Brad Bock and junior Jack Meyer, whose older brother, Rick, was a captain about four seasons ago and is playing in college these days with Manhattanville College.“It’s defense first. Lock it down and then the offense takes care of itself with the skills we have,” Clemente said. “The power play has really been clicking and that wins games. We’re very quick with a relentless forecheck and working the corners. It’s been pretty much a work in progress.”“It’s not the talent but how much work you put in and grinding out the wins,” the elder Felice said.Clemente only hopes that work in progress comes to full fruition soon. BY WAYNE WITKOWSKI Correspondent last_img

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