In his first two seasons at Manalapan High School, Freddie Brutto parked himself in front of the hockey net and stuffed home rebounds.
He was just playing within coach Brad Gardner’s system, which called for dumping, chasing and scoring dirty goals.
But in his junior and senior seasons with the Manalapan ice hockey team, Brutto transformed into a prettier scorer. He carried the puck, zipped it to open teammates and fired shots on net.
The 5-8, 150-pound center was just playing within new coach Matt Inzerillo’s system, which called for puck control, extra passes and open looks.
Butto’s adaptability put him in position to break Manalapan’s scoring record on Jan. 25 against Brick Memorial High School.
Early in the second period at Howell Ice Arena, during an eventual 6-2 victory, Brutto crashed the net and stuck his stick out, tapping the puck into the net.
With the goal, the senior registered the 157th point of his career, breaking Manalapan’s program record of 156. Mike Lisciandro, a 2014 Manalapan graduate, held the record before Brutto broke it.
“Mike and Freddie were similar. They will get gritty and go down low. But both had the ability to make defensemen back up,” said Inzerillo, who was an assistant with the Braves when Lisciandro was on the team.
“In the beginning of my career, we were all about grinding it out. As I got older, I started skating around more and shooting it,” Brutto said. “Both worked.”
Brutto could always balance shooting and passing. His goal-assist splits in his first three high school seasons, 18-13, 24-23, 21-20, were relatively even.
But this winter, the senior has developed into more of a passer. He has 18 goals and 30 assists. As a result, three other Braves players, Joe Mazza (17 goals), Ryan Marsala (12) and Andrew Rutherford (11), have scored double digit goals.
“He takes pride in passing. He’s always been able to see the ice well,” Inzerillo said. “He does it all.”
Brutto’s selfless play has helped the Braves record a solid 10-9-3 record this winter. Manalapan is hoping to win a postseason trophy for the first time in the Brutto era.
But the Braves will have to win the NJSIAA Public B Tournament. They already lost in the first round of the Handchen Cup, 6-0, to Rumson-Fair Haven High School on Feb. 6.
Between Dec. 29 and Feb. 1, Manalapan went 7-1-2. Brutto was leading a prolific offense that was scoring 5.3 goals per game.
Then, the Rumson loss happened. Inzerillo thinks if the Braves get back to controlling the puck and creating chances, they can make a run in the state tournament.
As a senior, Brutto would love that more than anything.
“When we’re firing on all cylinders, I don’t know if there’s many teams that have the depth we have,” Inzerillo said. “And Freddie’s a wins guy. Not just a scoring and points guy.”
After the Rumson-Fair Haven loss, Brutto gathered his teammates in the postgame locker room.
“Freddie said we weren’t prepared and that can’t happen,” Inzerillo said. “So I think that woke us up.”
Manalapan won its next game, 3-1, over South Brunswick High School on Feb. 8.
“We are looking to make a run in states,” Brutto said.
This may be Brutto’s last chance to lead a hockey program. He is not sure if he wants to play junior hockey and start on a path to Division 1 or 2 collegiate hockey.
The senior may just go to college. He is a smart, focused student who wants to major in economics. Brutto took AP classes in micro and macro economics at Manalapan this year, and they sparked his interest in the subject.
“It’s a good way to be financially successful,” he said.