St. Augustine upsets No.1 Delbarton in Non-Public State Final

Since 2011, the Delbarton ice hockey program has won six NJSIAA championships but their opponent in the non-public final, St. Augustine last lifted the trophy in 2007 and was knocked out by Delbarton in the 2015 Gordon Cup and states in 2016, which made this a grudge match for the ages.

In the last decade, the esteemed Delbarton high school hockey program has faced St. Augustine in the Gordon cup semis in 2015 and the State Playoff semi-final in 2016. Both times, Delbarton came out on top but on Monday night at the Prudential Center in the non-public state championship game, the St. Augustine boys ice hockey team changed that narrative. Across the universe of New Jersey high school ice hockey, Delbarton is known as a perennial powerhouse, but St. Augustine is not. Delbarton was the top-seed in the 2023 NJSIAA non-public playoffs and this was their seventh appearance in the state championship game since 2013.

The favorites drew first blood on an odd man rush where forward Duncan Stewart entered the offensive zone, stopped and sent a cross ice pass to fellow senior, Trip Pendy. He took a shot that Augustine goalie, Alex Amato had a hard time saving and that left a rebound for Nick Faccone who would tap it in for the first lead of the game.

However, the underdogs responded quickly, by playing with speed and tenacity, which kept Delbarton from dominating at any point in the game. At 1:23 remaining in the first period, St. Augustine forward Enzo Fanelli scored on a pass from a teammate to tie the game.

They say the cream rises to the top and in this case, if you consider the number-one seeded team the cream, Delbarton rose to the top in the second period. It may as well have been Brian Gionta night at the Rock (Devils record holder for single-season goals) because Delbarton forward Nick Faccone scored his second goal of the game to put the top-seed up 2-1.

The last half of the second period was tight checking, as both teams started to play with that grit and determination that makes high-stakes hockey games so exciting. Delbarton blueliner, Michael Padula lined an opponent up and leveled him, shaking the boards and sending a jolt of electricity up into the crowd. However, it was a common theme that every time a St. Augustine player was knocked down or his team gave up a goal, they fought back stronger than ever.

With less than a minute remaining in the period, Augustine tied it. Defenseman, Ryan Vaites who intercepted a bad break-out pass front of Delbarton's goal, wheeled around and wristed a shot that went in, top shelf of Delbarton goaltender, James Cai’s net to tie the game. This goal was key because it shifted momentum in St. Augustine's favor even thought they had trailed for most of the second period. The third period was a battle of attrition, as Delbarton’s blueline of well-balanced defensive men wouldn’t give Auggy an inch and the underdogs wouldn’t give the top seed an inch either. After two periods the shots-on-goal totals were 20 for Delbarton and 19 for St. Augustine but Augustine outshot them 12-8 in the third.

When overtime began, a 15:00 was on the scoreboard, signaling a long period of grinding ice hockey, but Enzo Fanelli had other plans. The team who had not won in 15 years before the 2022-23 non-public final, was just a bit more desperate to win this title. Who else but Enzo Fanelli skated to the net front and tapped in a centering pass just 11 seconds into overtime and ended a 15-year state championship drought for his team.

We ran into a team that was destined," Coach Bruce Shatel said. "They played really well the last two weeks of the season. All the credit goes to them, and they were a tough opponent."

For St. Augustine, winning the 2022-23 state championship was a little more important than it would have been for Delbarton. That is because Delbarton last won a state title in 2018, just five years ago while it had been 15 years for the Auggies.

Yea, just grinding it out, believing. That was my message all playoffs-- 'You got to believe. Bobby [Kennedy] played his heart out. It's been a long year, an up-and-down year but these guys never quit and that's why I think they came out on top.

- St. Augustine's Head Coach, Roman Ammirato

This 2023 non-public hockey final saw two forwards score two goals, one from each team; For Delbarton, Faccone scored two goals and for St. Augustine, Fanelli notched the game-winner in sudden-death overtime.

Fanelli how he and his teammates went down by a goal two times in this game and still found a way to battle back.

We've been down. Once they put one in the net, it doesn't change any of our emotions. Still got to play hard, no giving up and it truly paid off for us. Truly amazing. You can't even dream of this stuff. A perfect way to end our season.

Check out Jersey Sporting News's photo gallery which includes pictures of all four games that took place in the NJSIAA Ice Hockey Finals.

Anthony Paradiso
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