Eustace faces Delbarton in N.J. hockey semifinal

By Matt Pesyna

For The Inquirer

It has been three months since the ice hockey teams from Bishop Eustace and Delbarton last met. Dec. 15, 2007, was the date. The final score was 1-1 when the buzzer sounded at the Flyers Skate Zone in Pennsauken.

Since then, Eustace has gone through its ups and downs, enduring a mid-season slump before catching fire in the NJSIAA state tournament. Meanwhile, all Delbarton has done is win 20 consecutive games.

Tomorrow at 2 p.m. at Mennen Arena in Morristown, the Crusaders (15-7-4) and Green Wave (25-1-1) will meet again, this time in the Non-Public state semifinals. It is Eustace's first semifinal appearance in school history. Delbarton is in the final four for the 14th consecutive year.

On the other side of the bracket, defending Non-Public state champ St. Augustine will face Christian Brothers Academy in an 8 p.m. semifinal Sunday at Mennen.

"It's a pretty big deal making the semifinals, but we don't want to settle for just getting there, no matter who we play," Crusaders junior defenseman Zach Green said. "The key for us is going to be staying close and being in the game in the third period. Then, anything can happen."

Hanging around won't be easy. The Delbarton lineup is full of experienced, talented, veteran players who have been through the playoff wars.

The top line features Charles Nerbak (27 goals, 36 assists), Michael Ambrosia (24 goals, 44 assists), and Kenny Agostino (14 goals, 20 assists). It's unquestionably the most feared line in the state.

"That top line is awesome, and their defense is good. And they have a decent goalie," said Eustace sophomore Jamie Hill, who leads the Crusaders with 14 goals and 26 assists for 40 points. "The first eight minutes are big. We have to dump it in and cycle the puck down low, because that's where we think they're vulnerable."

Eustace reached its first semifinal with a 4-1 win over Bergen Catholic, a team the Crusaders were 0-2-1 against before the quarterfinals. Now, they will try to turn the tables on Delbarton.

Eustace will need yeoman efforts from Hill, Kevin Harding (17 goals, 11 assists), and Mark Constantine (10 goals, 17 assists) up front and Tom Lynch, Green and company on defense.

"We have to be able to match their composure, because they are not going to be rattled," said Mike Green, the Eustace coach and Zach Green's father.

Coach Green's team, in addition to the 1-1 tie, dropped a 3-1 decision to Delbarton in December. "We have to be resilient, and we can't be satisfied just being there," Green said. "You don't get to this point often, so when you're here you have to take advantage of it. We aren't conceding anything to anyone."

Green wouldn't tip his hat on who will start in goal, but he has two good options in juniors Nick Casella (7-7-3, 2.36 goals-against average) and Kyle VanOsten (8-0-1, 0.83). Casella recently was named top goalie in the Gordon Conference, the state's most competitive league.