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Mar 31, 2022

RFH Ice Hockey Team Claims Dowd Cup Victory

By Tim Morris

Even though the season ended with a heart-wrenching loss, the Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School ice hockey team continued moving forward. The Bulldogs won the Shore Conference Dowd Cup and then advanced further than they ever in the state tournament, ultimately losing in a shootout to Middletown High School North, 4-3.

“It was another step toward what we’re looking for, a state championship,” Bulldog Head Coach Eric Zullo said of the 2021-22 season. “Winning the Shore Conference (Dowd Cup) in a tight game was a huge step. In the state playoffs, we had never been [in the semifinals] before. We’re moving in the right direction.”

Rumson finished with a 14-5-2 record and ranked in the state’s top 20 throughout the season.

Early in the season, Zullo learned that Rumson’s strength was numbers on its forward line.

“We had really good offensive depth,” he pointed out. “We could go after teams in waves.”

That depth led to a balanced attack. Senior Brett Pritchard led the team in goals with 21 and scoring with 30 points (nine assists to go with his 21 goals). Fellow senior Connor Spagnuola had 11 goals and a team-high 15 assists for 26 points. In all, 10 players scored 10 or more points. Junior Beau Kemler (8-4-12) and sophomores Andrew Croddick (5-8-13) and Nik Doumas (7-3-10) were among those scorers, and they will be back in 2022-23.

What Zullo didn’t have to learn about RFH was how good the Bulldog defense was. With experience and five two-way players, they exceled, allowing just 38 goals in 21 games.

Seniors Spencer Lee and Casey Freeman will be missed because of their leadership and all-around play. In addition to holding their ground defensively, they scored 12 and 11 points, respectively. Juniors Spencer Hobson, Ben Turoczi and Matt Hershkowitz and freshman Sal Iori will be the defense core next winter as they are coming off strong years. Hobson shared the team lead in assists (15). The team is also set in goal with junior John Kuras, who emerged as the team’s No. 1. He had an outstanding .922 save percentage while stopping 307 shots. Kuras posted three shutouts in the postseason. Sophomore Alex Baret proved a more than capable backup with his .902 save percentage.

After claiming the Dowd Cup in a thrilling 2-1 overtime win over Middletown South on Croddick’s goal, Rumson beat Ramsey, 6-0 and Mendham, 7-0, to reach the NJSIAA Public B semifinals for the first time. Their opponent was a familiar one, Middletown North, a team that had beaten RFH in the regular season.

The Bulldogs held a two-goal lead, 3-1, in the third period only to see the Lions rally late to tie and subsequently win it in a shootout, 4-3.

“We thought we should have won the game,” said Zullo. “Give the nod to Middletown North for never giving up. We were disappointed. We felt that way two years ago in the quarterfinals, and we learned from it. We’ll use [this loss] as fuel for next year. We learned you have to play all 45 minutes.”

With key contributors returning on offense, defense and goal, and with the memory of that semifinal loss as motivation, the Bulldogs could well take that next step and bring a state championship back to the school next year.