MIDDLETOWN — For St. John Vianney standout John Gutt, Friday evening’s meeting with Middletown South was more than a divisional game with Class A North rival Eagles, but a matchup that hit close to home, and what’s more…close to his heart.
Before Gutt — a junior and Middletown resident in his own right — entered the local high school hockey community as a skater with the Lancers, he was an embedded rink rat of sorts alongside his father Stan, who stood at the helm of High School South ice hockey for 11 years as a beloved head coach of the Eagles.
During his tenure, Gutt helped lead Middletown South to three Shore Conference Cup titles, one state final appearance and two more state semifinals berths, before the Middletown Board of Education opted to go in a different direction in June of 2014, relieving the longtime head man from his duties behind the bench (an action that resulted in the filing of a petition by concerned Middletown South hockey parents, and received nearly 450 signatures. View it here).
PLAYER OF WEEK: Howell’s Sean Mylod named Player of Week 1
Given the family history in the navy, white and silver of High School South, family pride was on the mind of Gutt as he laced up his skates before Friday’s big tilt.
“I just wanted to make my dad very proud of me tonight,” said Gutt, who has emerged as one of the Shore Conference’s most dynamic play-makers in his junior campaign. “He was talking to me before the game about how good South is this year; about how he knows how good all their top players are because he’s watched them come up and coached all their older brothers. So I really wanted to come out here and get that victory for my dad.”
Gut didn’t just help St. John Vianney to a 5-2 triumph — handing the Eagles their first loss of the season while pushing the Lancers’ win streak to four consecutive games to open the year — but rather, the winger was the star of the contest, logging two goals and an assist in the win.
BIGGER THAN THE GAME: Vinca returns to St. Rose crease after life-altering diagnosis
“Talking about John Gutt, we knew how meaningful this game was for him, to say the least, and it showed,” Lancers coach Mick Messemer said. “He’s the type of kid who makes his presence felt in all zones…You can tell he’s a coach’s son.”
“And as good of a hockey player as he is, he’s an even better person,” Messemer added. “He comes from a great family. And we could tell how much this game to meant to him, by the way he played, and the focus he showed leading into it. He’s just an excellent player and leader, and we’re lucky to have him.”
The Lancers opened the scoring in this contest with a pair of first period short-handed goals, the first of which came on a breakaway conversion by Kevyn Rigatti, followed by a Gutt penalty shot, as the junior buried a wrist through the blocker-side to make it a 2-0 game.
The Eagles got the next two with a pair of power play tallies by Joe Guercio and Deven Ralph — the only two shot to beat Lancers netminder Jeremy Connor, who made 32 saves in the win — before the Lancers answered with two more of their own by Jake LaRusso and Gutt, both of which came on the man advantage.
The Lancers rounded out the scoring with 28 seconds remaining in regulation and the Eagles net empty, as Gutt slid a pass through three High School South defenders to a cutting Rigatti who punched his second of the night into an empty net to make it a 5-2 final and push the Lancers to four consecutive victories to open this 2017-18 season.
“We both came into this game undefeated, and neither team wanted to lose tonight,” said Gutt, who now has 11 points on four goals and seven assists on the year. “We were able to pull this one out because we had a little more heart and soul. It was our goal to be 4-0-0 heading into an even bigger game on Tuesday [with St. Augustine]. They’re a Gordon [Conference] team and we win it, it’ll be one of the biggest wins in program history.”
St. John Vianney plays host to St. Augustine on Tuesday night at 5:45 p.m.