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New Jersey high school championship participants take Prudential Center ice for the first time

by Gordy Stillman / New Jersey Devils
Goaltender Evan Szary, one of many first time participants in the NJSIAA High School Ice Hockey Championships at Prudential Center, stands calm with his eyes focused on the action. Szary earned the only shutout of the night, along with All-Tournament Team honors. Andy Marlin/New Jersey Devils

Delbarton freshman forward John Farinacci’s first ever game at Prudential Center was one to remember. Playing on a line with his brother, Anthony, Farinacci launched a wrist shot from the faceoff circle that found its way past Christian Brothers Academy goaltender Michael Cernero. It was his first of what could be many goals at The Rock for a member of a perennial powerhouse team and a game-winning goal.

“My brother made a great play, luckily it got to my stick and fortunately I was able to put it in the net,” the 15-year-old Farinacci said. “It’s unbelievable…It’s a great experience and I’m just thankful for it,” the Chatham native added. “It’s the best feeling I’ve felt, ever.”

Farinacci was one of many skaters competing in the NJSIAA finals at The Rock for the first time, a club of athletes that included the entire team of Public B runner-up Glen Rock High School. Even schools like Public B champions Ramsey High School and Non-Public runner-up Christian Brothers Academy, both competing in their third consecutive title game, had new faces on the ice.

CBA junior Nic Dietrich, 17, was scratched when his school won the title outright in 2015, making Monday’s match his first chance to skate on the Devils’ ice. Dietrich said the disappointing loss gave him inspiration to work towards a fourth straight appearance for CBA next year, with a better outcome. “I’m going to work hard all summer, and we’re going to get back here,” he said.

“It’s a cool experience that the Devils host. It’s fun and I had a great time coming up here,” Dietrich said. A resident of Point Pleasant, the forward said it was great to reach Prudential Center. “Words can’t explain how exciting it was…working hard to get here, it’s a great feeling.”

Glen Rock, led by Captain Thomas LaMachia, reached the Public B Final for the first time in school history, having fun up to the end. “The whole point of being here, playing as a team, is to have fun. That’s the number one thing.” LaMachia said that while he and his teammates wish they had won, they left everything on the table. LaMachia had skated on the Devils’ ice once as a kid, but skating in a game with a crowd was a blast. “I’ll remember that for my entire life.” Named to the Public B All-Tournament Team, LaMachia will attend Coastal Carolina University in the fall.

“When you get on the ice, that’s when it really hits you,” said Casey Robinson, a freshman forward at Ramsey. “You’re like ‘holy crap, I’m in the middle of The Rock,’…and there’s only two words to describe it: amazing and surreal.” Robinson said attending the pre-finals lunch at Prudential Center on Friday March 4 helped get him excited and ready to compete. “Being able to come here and just look around, with nobody here and seeing everything, it really got me going.” Robinson said that the most unexpected part of the night, for him, was hearing Devils PA announcer Kevin Clark say his name and hear it in the arena.

For Randolph sophomore Nick Civetta, the size of The Rock, seeing the seats from the ice, was the most unexpected part of the experience. “Seeing all of the people, that was just insane. I have never played in anything like that before,” he said after the final game of the night. Whenever Civetta could, he said he tried to soak in the experience. “I’m lucky I’m a sophomore. I have two more years to try to get [back to Prudential Center.] The seniors, they played [here] twice already, some of them three times.”

Morristown goalie Evan Szary, also a sophomore, had the lone honor among the goaltenders of shutting out his opponent on the way to a 2-0 win in the final game of the night for his Prudential Center debut. “It feels great, the shutout, but more importantly, the win,” Szary said. For his performance, Szary was named to the Public A All-Tournament Team.

Szary said there were a few things that made this game different than he expected. “The crowd was a big thing. We have a big crowd, but not usually that big and especially Randolph being right on top of you in the second period, it was really loud,” he explained. Szary added that he had to quickly get comfortable to the ice, which he felt was warm under all the lights.

Most of the competitors from the 2016 NJSIAA High School Ice Hockey Championships will have the chance to return next year, as their teams set aside 2015-16 and start anew with the 2016-17 season in November. While for seniors, 2016 was a final chance at glory, next year a new group of skaters, including members of the class of 2020 will step in, ready to write their own legacies on the ice.

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