The Delbarton bus was idling outside Walter Brown Arena in Boston, full of pizza and winning grins, ready to take this group of rowdy hockey teens home to New Jersey. The captain and future Vermont Catamount Andrew Petrillo was stationed in the very back, talking about the Green Wave’s three big wins in Massachusetts. Coach Bruce Shatel was tucking into a peperoni slice up front, and goalie Troy Kobryn finally stashed his pads under the bus, hopped in with a grin, and the victory tour headed south.
Shatel had done what years ago would have been unthinkable: a weekend sweep of Boston Catholic League powers Malden Catholic and Catholic Memorial, coming on the heels of an upset over highly touted Dexter prep. The Jersey guys had come into the Hub of hockey and claimed three major scalps, and were riding their luxury bus south like Roman Triumphs from the history books. For all intents and purposes, this was a historic group of wins, especially from the perspective of a hockey man from the previous century.
“We were (below) the Mason-Dixon line. No one thought we played hockey,” said Richie Mclaughlin, Randolph high school’s championship coach and a product of Livingston High and the New Jersey Rockets. He was a Jersey pioneer back in the early 1980’s, playing big-time college hockey for Merrimack College up in Massachusetts. “I used to love starting the game because they would have to say where you were from over the loudspeaker. There were always people who said something like ‘Ahh, from New Jersey.’ They just thought I was some dopey kid playing hockey that don’t have a chance in the world. It always meant something to beat out a kid and to play well up there. It was always in the back of your mind that you had to play better every game and every shift because you’re from New Jersey. The coaches are all from Massachusetts, everyone’s from Massachusetts. There was no one else from New Jersey, it was new, it was something new and you had to prove yourself every day, to everybody.”
“I know exactly what Richie is talking about,” said Delbarton coach Bruce Shatel, whose Green Wave skaters have been directly responsible for Jersey shedding the reputation of second class hockey citizens. “We had something to prove about 10 years ago; I think over time we’ve been fortunate to have had some success. Anybody who knows anything about hockey knows that guys can play in New Jersey.” Shatel had watched the NHL’s New Jersey Devils host the Maple Leafs the night before, and was armed with fresh intel. “If you look at the game last night, (Kyle) Palmieri is on the sheet, and so is (James) Van Riemsdyck, they’re both New Jersey natives. We got Johnny Gaudreau, you know, a superstar in the league, and hopefully our guy Kenny Agostino is going to get his opportunity to make his mark. You know, as far as going up there (Mass.) with something to prove, years ago I think we all felt that way, but now I think there’s a mutual respect.”
Maybe even envy. Malden Catholic is the three-time defending Super-Eight champion of Boston, but they could not contend with Delbarton’s relentless forecheck for three periods, and succumbed to the Green Wave 4-1 on December 19. “You know, they’re a class program,” said Malden coach John McLean in the post game. “I don’t know if we’re going to see many teams like that this year. They’re deep, they’re big and they’re strong. They’ve got some high-end talent. I’d like to play them another 10 times to be honest with you.”
Perhaps their most talented scorer is 6’3” power forward Anthony Farinacci, a senior who blasted in the tying and winning goals versus Malden Catholic. At this writing he has not declared his intentions, considering everything from a NESCAC school to a gap year in British Columbia before going Division I. He is impossible to ignore on the ice due to his shot and net drive. “Anthony Farinacci could play on any team. He’s a college prospect,” said Boston-based player agent Matt Keator, whose clients include Zdeno Chara, Paul Stastny and Chris Kreider. “They (Delbarton) always produce kids that go to college and can play.” And it’s not just Shatel and Delbarton developing these kids. New Jersey has benefitted from USA Hockey’s coaching outreach, manifesting in elite travel teams throughout the Garden State. “Go to Division I rosters, there’s New Jersey kids sprinkled around all over the place,” said Keator. “That has a lot to do with the development models they have in place down there, whether it’s with the New Jersey Avalanche program or the Colonials, you’ve got great developers of talent down in that area, people that work with players and make them elite. It’s a whole different landscape now.”
A vital component to Shatel’s current juggernaut is the impact he gets from his four freshman, all groomed by New Jersey travel programs. “The one thing we learned on our first trip to Boston (beating Dexter) is that none of our 9th graders were scared, and that’s important,” said Shatel. “They dove right in and that was real nice to see.” As a former scout for the St. Louis Blues, Keator knows talent on a national scale, and said it is common knowledge that both Ryan Siedem and John Farinacci are two of the best 2001’s (birth year) in the country. Young Farinacci combined with his older brother Anthony on the winning goal Saturday, and potted the game winner on Sunday. “For him to make the team as a freshman was unbelievable,” said an obviously proud big brother Saturday. “And now he had a point with me on the same line, it’s pretty cool.” Young John replaced his big brother as the offensive hero the next afternoon against a gritty Catholic Memorial squad. He swooped into the slot and one-timed a perfect feed to break a scoreless tie in the third period. Shatel was obviously impressed: “The freshman came up big, burying it to make it 1-0.”
“It feels great,” said the 5’9” 155 pound 14-year-old, who looks like he’s never handled a razor in his life. He imparted wisdom nevertheless. “It’s a great thing for our program, taking down three amazing teams.” Young John was referring to the three-team sweep of Beantown’s best, a feat that Shatel could not remember having ever accomplished. The captain, whose brilliant skating and precision passing kept the Green Wave rolling all weekend, spoke for all. “As a New Jersey high school team nobody expects us to do this,” said Petrillo. “In everybody’s mind in the hockey world this isn’t supposed to happen. Well, we have a special group; we love proving everybody wrong, that’s what we’re all about.”
The late December sun sunk into the westbound ribbon of the Mass. Pike, as the victorious econoliner headed home, undefeated and brimming with hard-earned confidence to help them with future battles.
McLaughlin still bursts with pride when the boys come back to Jersey with scalps from up north, because he remembers the old days. “It was a big deal to go up there and win. It was great to say that hockey’s not just in Massachusetts. It’s still a big deal. These guys don’t think it as much any more, but it is a big deal.”