I hit the back roads of Bergen County for three preliminary round games tonight. Went to Mackay Park for the first time, saw way more of Paterson than I ever intended, and found part of the Hamburg Turnpike I never knew existed. On the way, I fit in a pair of overtime games and a lot of quality goaltending.
In the first game I saw, at the Ice House, Fair Lawn breezed past Point Pleasant 5-0, outshooting the tournament debutants 43-12. The Cutters advance to a round-of-16 game against Ridgewood Thursday at the Ice House. Fair Lawn, by the way, has qualified for seven consecutive NJSIAA tournaments and now has a 9-6 all-time record in tournament play, including three upsets. That’s impressive.
I then headed to Mackay Park for the first time (forgetting to wear two pairs of socks, a fatal mistake) for the Old Tappan–Park Regional game. My thought after about five minutes was “these teams are really even matched, and overtime is a real possibility,” and all the “OT” chants eventually paid off with an extra session. One night after compatriot Kinnelon was destroyed by another NBIAL team, Northern Highlands, Haas Cup champion Park Regional took a 2-0 lead on a pair of rebound goals. The Golden Knights fought back with two goals in the final 5:23, including a tip-in with 1:38 left to tie the game. Eric Phenix for Old Tappan and Anthony White for Regional were both outstanding in goal, with White making four saves in one sequence in the final minute to preserve the overtime.
If you think about it, overtime had to be in the cards. It was Regional’s third overtime game in its last four, and Old Tappan’s second in its past three games. And it was really cold. And for the second time in four days, Regional won with an overtime power play. The referees had made a visible effort to let the teams play in the extra period, but Old Tappan was whistled for an obvious holding penalty just after the halfway mark. Regional, which I thought had the deeper team, capitalized when Jon Strelec controlled a rebound and smoothly deked around Phenix for the winning goal. The Park advances to face Randolph Monday in the first round.
After a little Route 4 action and a scenic drive through Paterson, I hit the Ice Vault in time for the second period. As expected, Michael Costa kept Toms River South in the game most of the way, stopping 39 of 40 shots in regulation. West Milford took a 1-0 lead early in the second period when Keegan Saum scored on a rebound at the pack post. But the Highlanders took too many penalties, and TRS hung around. The Indians finally cashed in on a power play with 5:11 remaining in the third period when Kyle Slickers’ wrist shot found its way past Sean Ryan in the West Milford goal. But West Milford’s territorial advantage proved too much to handle, as Andrew Atieh took advantage of the carom of a missed shot to score just 1:50 into overtime. West Milford advances to face Bridgewater-Raritan Friday night.
In other action Tuesday, Clifton (11-1 over Sparta), Old Bridge (10-0 over Passaic Valley), and Tenafly (10-3 over Southern) cruised to preliminary-round victories. TRN tied St. John Vianney 3-3 and Delbarton beat St. Joseph Montvale 10-0 in non-tournament action.
I saw four cup championships awarded today and got scores from the others, so I’ll try to be brief:
Van Cott Cup Final: Montgomery 4, MKA 1
Heavy favorite Montgomery (20-2) rolled to the Central White championship with a 4-1 win over MKA. The private-school Cougars stayed in the game until late in the third period thanks to a standout performance from goalie Mike Grillo, who stopped 31 of 34 shots, but MKA surrendered countless odd-man rushes and did little to threaten Montgomery goalie Ian Healey.
Mike Violette scored the opening goal for Montgomery when he deflected a floating point shot. MKA tied the game with one of the day’s more unusual moments, as Mike Pierri calmly and deftly converted a penalty shot (awarded for a player covering the puck in the crease) by roofing a backhand shot. Healey stopped all 23 shots he faced from open play. Montgomery got the winning goal with 1:53 remaining in the second period, as MKA got caught when one of its defensemen was unsure on a change, leaving Jim Yetter wide open in front of the net to neatly redirect a pass from brother Mike Yetter.
Montgomery finally pulled away late in the third period when Mike Yetter popped a rebound over Grillo’s shoulder on the power play for a 3-1 lead. Mike Yetter sealed the deal with an empty-net goal as time expired.
Hoerner Cup Final: Clifton 5, Paramus Catholic 1
Reigning North Jersey Player of the Year Anthony Yelovich had his credentials on display in the second game at South Mountain, scoring a natural hat trick in the third period and assisting on two other goals in Clifton’s 5-1 demolition of Paramus Catholic.
The teams tied 1-1 in both regular season meetings and were scoreless midway through this game. But a moment of brilliance from Yelovich brought the game to life. With Yelovich posted up at the edge of the crease, Mike Garbrandt played the puck in from the left boards. Yelovich let a blind, backhand, one-time pass roll off his stick to a wide-open Brian Junda, who beat John Podesta up high just minutes after Podesta had stoned him from close range.
Still, Paramus Catholic hit the crossbar three minutes later and it was 1-0 into the third period. That’s when Yelovich really took over, scoring three goals in a span of 5:22. Each goal displayed some stickhandling brilliance, and he finished his day by setting up Junda for the Mustangs’ fifth goal at the 11:15 mark. Rob Dotto added a late consolation goal for the Paladins. Chris Donini made 22 saves in net for Clifton.
Haas Cup Final: Park Regional 4, Kinnelon 3 (OT)
I hauled you-kn0w-what over to Mennen and caught the end of a sensational Haas Cup final. I am loathe to admit it, but the Mennen Cup final took a back seat to the Haas final this year, mostly in part to the hordes of fans in attendance for the first game. More than 1,400 tickets were sold during the first two periods of the Haas Cup, compared to Mennen Arena’s total attendance for the two games of more than 2,300.
With the game 2-2 when I arrived, Kinnelon got an early power-play goal from Peter Crampton to take a 3-2 lead. Park Regional, which was 1-0-1 against Kinnelon in a hotly contested regular-season series, struggled to find the net the rest of the way but was awarded a power play with 2:28 remaining. Park capitalized with a brilliant play, as Mike Scott found Scott Greene at the back-post for a perfect one-timer to tie the game with 1:02 remaining.
With the Haas Cup final in overtime for the second time in its seven-year history, the game was unfortunately decided on the power play. Regional was whistled for too many men on the ice early in the period, and Kinnelon was later whistled for a penalty. Regional capitalized on the power play, as Scott spun around in the slot to whip a rebound of Greene’s point shot through the five-hole to give head coach Tom Levis a second consecutive title. Park Regional and Morristown have each won three Haas Cup titles, with Parsippany Hills claiming the seventh.
Mennen Cup Final: Morristown-Beard 3, Chatham 1
It had been more than 20 years since either school had won a Mennen Cup title, so we were just hoping we didn’t have to deal with co-champions. Morristown-Beard saved us the effort with a comprehensive 3-1 win over a tired and outmanned Chatham squad.
Greg Alberti opened the scoring just 1:23 into the game, scooping home the rebound after Sam Altiero hit the post from close range. Chatham had its best moments in the next five minutes, but Morristown-Beard gradually took over the game and Cougar goalie Michael Infante had to be at his best (13 saves) to keep it a 1-0 game. Beard’s John Yanchek made a big save on Chatham forward Pat Coyne with 3:40 left to keep it 1-0.
The second period lacked quality chances, for the most part, but it did include the game’s defining play, as Chatham’s Jeff Chatterton stole the puck while shorthanded and ripped a slap shot from the slot that beat Yanchek but hit the left post. It was Chatham’s best chance to tie the game.
In the third period, Chatham opened in a passive 1-1-3 forecheck, and Beard defenseman Pat Yannotta held the puck for 20 seconds behind the net before breaking out. Chatham was hurt further midway through the period when second-line forward Rob Curcio, whose goal beat Morris Knolls Thursday, received a 10-minute misconduct for arguing a minor penalty whistled against him. On the ensuing power play, Yannotta made a D-to-D pass to Jake Lewis on the right point. Infante made a blocker save on Lewis’ slap shot, but Dan Shurts was on hand to finish the rebound high into the net for a 2-0 advantage. Within a minute, Chatham fans were screaming for a penalty that was not called when Jeff Tompson was taken down, and Beard made it 3-0 when Corey Schneider redirected Yannotta’s point shot past Infante.
Chatham grabbed a consolation goal on a power-play slap shot from Tompson with 2:29 remaining, but the Cougars (playing their third game in five days) had absolutely nothing in their legs in the final minutes and could not even pull Infante. Morristown-Beard celebrated its first outright Mennnen Cup title since 1983, snapping a 10-game winless streak in the Mennen Cup final.
Other cup action
In the latter two games at South Mountain, Bridgewater-Raritan beat St. Joseph Metuchen 2-0, including an empty-netter, to claim the McInnis Cup title, and Seton Hall Prep remained unbeaten with a 5-2 win, including empty-netters, over Delbarton in the Gordon Cup final.
I picked the two NBIAL games tonight and apparently missed a classic MCT final and some other excellent games, so I’ll do what I can to catch everybody up. I’m still not sure whether I’m going to the Gordon Cup or the Mennen Cup tomorrow.
Seedings and standings held at the Ice Vault, as the Ramapo/Indian Hills school district swept the NBIAL championships … not that there was a trophy or anything remotely cool like that on hand. The NBIAL athletic directors have some serious work to do.
NBIAL Div. I Final: Ramapo 7, Fair Lawn 1
This was a strange game. Ramapo came in as the obvious favorite, sporting a 16-1-1 league record and two regular-season wins over Fair Lawn, but the Cutters were in really good position for the upset for the first 20 minutes of the game. Fair Lawn opened in a 1-1-3 trap and was content to take four icing whistles in the first five minutes. Ramapo still had the better of play and opened the scoring midway through the period on a pile-up at the net. Chris Martin jabbed home the puck at the back post before the whistle blew, although Cutter coach Cory Robinson was unhappy that the goal was not signaled until after the whistle. Despite the deficit, Fair Lawn was executing its gameplan, with the exception of its attempts to spring Gabe Capozzi for a breakaway. Capozzi, who sat on the red line as the central defenseman in the trap, got one breakaway chance but was stoned by Ramapo’s Dan Menken with 5:14 remaining in the period. Despite an apparent size disadvantage, the Green Raiders were especially dangerous down low and on rebounds. Still, Fair Lawn’s Dan Ivanir held out with nine saves in the first period.
Fair Lawn enjoyed its best stretch of play to open the second period, and Capozzi fired a shot off the post just two minutes in after sustained pressure. Menken had to make eight saves in the first three minutes of the period to maintain Ramapo’s 1-0 lead. The Green Raiders then exploded for four goals in a five-minute stretch in the middle of the period to essentially put the game away. Third-line forward Alan Radvinsky scored twice, once on a rebound and once on a deflection, and defensemen Matt Pecoraro and Eric Maguire each added goals.
Fair Lawn tried to adjust its forecheck and play a more physical game but never mounted much of a threat. Steve Drummond scored on a power-play rebound 24 seconds into the third period, but Ramapo came right back 38 seconds later when Zander Pindyck deflected in a point shot. Robbie Sorrenti sealed the win with 4:25 remaining. Despite the lopsided score, Menken might have been the game’s biggest factor, stopping 29 of 30 shots. Ramapo, which lost in overtime to Wayne Hills in last year’s final, reached the 20-win plateau after two consecutive losing seasons.
NBIAL Div. II Final: Indian Hills 3, Ramsey 2
Not to bash the first game, but the nightcap was really a lot better. The crowd was much larger and featured a standing, vocal Ramsey cheering section. The game was a lot closer and felt tense throughout, producing some serious emotions at the final whistle. Ramsey and Indian Hills split a pair of 6-4 decisions this year, including Indian Hills’ only loss in two seasons of NBIAL play.
Based on reputation, one might have expected Indian Hills to dominate territorially, with Ramsey most dangerous in transition. The first two periods ended up being exactly the opposite. Ramsey controlled play throughout the first period but fell behind 2-0 on a pair of sucker-punch goals. The most important came just 2:30 into the game, with Indian Hills changing, as first-line forward Brad Montalbano fired a shot from the right wing that Ramsey’s Chris Clifford saved, but second-line center Anthony LaGrega was on hand to fend off defenseman Pat Nerney and tap in the rebound. The Braves went up 2-0 against the run of play five minutes later, as Ryan Larkin caught Clifford by surprise with a near-post snap shot from the left circle. Both teams struggled to get shifts for their third lines, and Ramsey’s forecheck consistently limited Indian Hills’ breakout.
The Rams stepped up the pressure in the second period, and only brilliant early play from Indian Hills’ Anthony Tabbacchino, who did not have his best game in the 6-4 loss to Ramsey earlier in the year, kept it a 2-0 game. Ramsey coach Gerry Iannuzzi, as usual, relied on his first line of Casey Mignone and the Zaentz brothers, Derek and David, for a ton of ice time. Mignone took three consecutive shifts at one point and managed to fire a shot off the post before dragging himself to the bench. His next shift, however, yielded the first goal. Forechecking on the penalty kill, Mignone stole the puck behind the net and quickly fed Derek Zaentz in the slot for a one-timer through the legs of Tabbacchino to make it 2-1. My favorite part of the goal was that Mignone somehow convinced the referees to give two assists on the play. Not the only time that happened in the game, either. Tabbacchino recovered to post 11 saves in the period, holding the 2-1 advantge into the third period.
Indian Hills coach Phil Murphy credited a change in defensive-zone coverage and breakout for his team’s third-period success, and the Braves did turn the tables with a 7-3 shot advantage. Their second line, in particular, enjoyed a great night by scoring all three goals and dominating Ramsey’s second and third lines when given the opportunity. The back-breaking goal, while forced under pressure, was a gift. Larkin gloved an ill-advised breakout pass across the high slot and ripped a slap shot that LaGrega redirected past a helpless Clifford for a 3-1 advantage. Mignone pulled his team off the floor and back into the game, however, when he fired in the rebound of a good point shot from Joe Warner to make it 3-2.
Ramsey pushed forward in the final minutes but narrowly escaped giving up a fourth goal, as Clifford stopped Bryan Thompson on a breakaway, and the whistle blew before Montalbano popped in the rebound. The exhausted Rams could not even find a shot in the last minute when attacking six-on-five, and Indian Hills claimed its second straight Division II championship.
I wrote about it last time, but the post-game handshake line was again poignant. Ramsey’s Nerney hugged probably half of the Indian Hills players, and I’m talking two-arms-and-pat hugs, not just man-hugs. Murphy took extra time in talking with Nerney and the inconsolable Mignone, while several of the top players from both teams stayed on the ice after the game talking. It wasn’t the victors lingering on the ice to celebrate (there was no trophy, after all); rather, it was friends lingering because they didn’t want their time to end.
For all the great matchups that a state-wide league like the NJIHL produces, I will always be drawn to the three county leagues because of the sense of history in the MCSSIHL and CVC and the sense of community in all three. There are people there that care about the league and all the teams in it, not just their kid’s school. More than in other leagues, these players and coaches have faced each other for years – Murphy hearkened back to several Ramsey players in fifth grade – and the respect (or animosity) between rivals truly deepens over those years. When I write the definitive history of New Jersey high school hockey, I think most of the best stories will come from veteran coaches and fans sitting around the fire at Mercer County Rink or sitting together in the unofficial ‘neutral’ sections at Mennen Arena or talking in the snack bar during warmups at the Ice Vault.
Ramapo 7, Fair Lawn 1
7:58 Rmpo #11 Chris Martin (#3 Alan Radvinsky, #20 Mike Walsh)
5:52 Rmpo #3 Alan Radvinsky (#4 Bill Griffith, #11 Chris Martin)
7:43 Rmpo #3 Alan Radvinsky (#21 Eric Maguire, #11 Chris Martin)
9:35 Rmpo #5 Matt Pecoraro (#14 Brian Ix)
10:55 Rmpo #21 Eric Maguire (#10 Zander Pindyck)
0:24 FL (pp) #21 Steve Drummond (#18 Gabe Capozzi, #22 Jason Eccles)
1:02 Rmpo #10 Zander Pindyck (#5 Matt Pecoraro, #28 Robbie Sorrenti)
10:35 Rmpo #28 Robbie Sorrenti (#10 Zander Pindyck)
#30 Dan Ivanir (FL) 28-21
#30 Dan Menken (Rmpo) 30-29
Power plays: FL 1-2, Rmpo 0-0
Indian Hills 3, Ramsey 2
2:30 IH #28 Anthony LaGrega (#22 Brad Montalbano, #16 Greg Moss)
7:19 IH #44 Ryan Larkin (#11 Tim Aberle, #23 Kevin Coneys)
8:03 Rmsy (sh) #12 Derek Zaentz (#91 Casey Mignone)
7:21 IH #28 Anthony LaGrega (#44 Ryan Larkin, #17 Perry Clarkson)
9:49 Rmsy #91 Casey Mignone (#18 Joe Warner, #22 Pat Nerney)
#30 Chris Clifford (Rmsy) 21-18
#38 Anthony Tabbacchino (IH) 26-24
Power plays: Rmsy 0-1, IH 0-1
MCT Final: Steinert 4, Notre Dame 3 (OT)
Speaking of county leagues, Steinert claimed its first ever Mercer County Tournament title with a 4-3 overtime win over Notre Dame Friday. The Irish, who beat Steinert 9-0 last Friday in the Titans Cup final, lost in overtime for the second consecutive year.
Man, we really should all get lives. It’s Friday night, yet here I am posting details that had to be emailed to me two and three times. Oh well. Credit Steinert head coach Bill James with the details on this one. In what sounds like a pretty classic MCT final, Steinert broke a 1-1 tie with two third-period goals, the second coming with 2:38 left, for an apparently insurmountable 3-1 lead. Notre Dame responded in just 17 seconds, however, to make it 3-2, and Adam Shemansky struck on a breakaway with 1:47 remaining (2 ND goals in 24 seconds) to tie the game 3-3. In overtime, Spartan forwards Gil Schaffer and Mitch Wien combined for the winner, with Wien firing home to give Steinert the championship.
Wien finished with 2-8-10 in Steinert’s three MCT games this week, while Schaffer was 10-2-12. Notre Dame held a 29-27 shot advantage in the game, which means Alex Toth of Steinert made 26 saves and Brandon Delibero of Notre Dame stopped 23 shots. Steinert won the season series from Notre Dame, 2-1-1, and won the Colonial Division and Mercer County Tournament titles, with Notre Dame taking the Titans Cup. Steinert (21-2-2) will open state tournament play against either Wall or Lawrence, while Notre Dame (15-5-3) will face St. John Vianney.
Props to St. Augustine Prep for getting of the schnide (anyone know how to spell that? schneid?) with a 5-2 win over Bishop Eustace in the Handchen Cup final, denying the Crusaders a fourth consecutive title and finally solving Eustace goalie Colin Saltiel. Glen Rock won the Northern Blue title in overtime, while Hillsborough breezed to a 7-0 win in the Kelly Cup final. Also, a shout-out to everybody scheduling impromptu state tournament warmups this week. Pingry and Westfield played today, and Delbarton has picked up two games next week, and there are at least six other games this week that are not state tournament games.
Morristown-Beard 5, Randolph 2
Morristown-Beard will get yet another shot at a Mennen Cup championship Saturday after a 5-2 semifinal win over Randolph Thursday night sent the Crimson to their 11th championship game in the last 16 years. Beard is 0-9-1 in those games.
In a period that typified Randolph’s play against top teams, the Rams enjoyed more possession but created fewer chances than the Crimson, and Morristown-Beard took the lead with a shorthanded goal at the 6:17 mark. Corey Schneider gained the zone on the right side, juked around a defender, and snapped a shot past Dan Swenson, returning from injury in the Randolph goal, for a 1-0 advantage.
Randolph had the advantage most of the second period as well, with Chris Maloney hitting the post, but only a save by Swenson on a Greg Alberti breakaway kept it a one-goal game. The Rams finally broke through at the 9:33 mark, once again scoring in front of their student fans. After outmuscling a defender for a loose puck at the red line, Rob Kral broke into the offensive zone on the right wing and wristed a shot past John Yanchek to tie the game. Randolph scored again within two minutes, as they have done so often this year, when Chris Tamminga blasted a slap shot in the high slot that trickled through Yanchek. But the Crimson netminder redeemed himself by holding strong in the final 3:26 to keep the game 2-1 entering the final period.
Morristown-Beard came out fired up, forcing Swenson into three saves in the first 50 seconds. Then came the penalties. Randolph was first whistled for pushing Yanchek behind the net, and again only 11 seconds later for a slashing penalty at center ice. Morristown-Beard needed only 16 seconds to convert, as Ryan Paradis blasted a point shot past Swenson to tie the game. The Crimson cashed in on the other half of their power play as well, but not without controversy. Paradis’ point shot sailed high, and Sam Altiero redirected it with the definition of a borderline high-stick call. Swenson made the save but could not find the rebound, and Dan Shurts slotted it home for a 3-2 lead. The Crimson continued to be more aggressive, with Swenson stopping Turner Paine in front before Jake Lewis finally got the fourth goal, swiping home a shot from the slot after being left wide open. Randolph got a late 6-on-4 advantage, but Shurts scored into an empty net to complete Beard’s most comprehensive win over Randolph this season.
It marked the sixth time in eight years that Morristown-Beard eliminated Randolph in the Mennen Cup semifinals. The Crimson have not won an outright Mennen Cup title since 1983, although they did tie with Delbarton in the 1994 championship.
Chatham 2, Morris Knolls 1
Chatham continued to have Morris Knolls’ number in a pulsating late game, knocking off the defending Mennen Cup and public state champion for the second time this year with a 2-1 decision. The Cougars are now 2-0-1 against Knolls on the year and will play in their first Mennen Cup final since 1989 on Saturday. Chatham has not won a Mennen Cup as one high school, but Chatham Township’s last title came in 1981.
Despite reigning as the state’s top public for the entire season, Morris Knolls had been outshot in all six games against its three main Mennen Division rivals, and the Golden Eagles held true to form in the early going Thursday. Knolls took advantage of an early power play, as Tommy Tomensky snapped a shot from the right face-off circle past Michael Infante just 1:40 into the game. But it was all Chatham from then on in a hard, fast, chippy first period. Josh Ofner made 13 saves in the period to keep the score 1-0.
Infante had to make more saves (3) in the first 40 seconds of the second period than he had in the entire first period (2), but the Cougars withstood the trademark Knolls barrage and recovered to dominate the period. Chatham mixed in a 1-1-3 trap at times but could not solve Ofner, who had every fan in the arena turning to his neighbor in amazement that the state’s top public team was being dominated yet remained in the lead. He stopped Jeff Tompson twice on a shorthanded breakaway and later Rob Curcio on a breakaway to keep it a 1-0 game. The equalizing goal, from a Chatham counterattack, was slightly fortuitous. A pass out of the right corner found an unmarked target in front, but Ofner’s pokecheck deflected the puck high in the air toward the back post. Tompson, stepping up from defense, gloved the puck in mid-air but found himself behind the net. So he blindly backhanded the puck over a diving Ofner into the crease, where it deflected off a frantically arriving Dan Duda and into the net to tie the game 1-1.
Still, Ofner’s 28 saves had Knolls, with only seven shots, in a 1-1 game heading to the third period. Instead of the Golden Eagles on the initial attack, however, Chatham’s Jeff Chatterton won the face-off and whistled a shot wide of Ofner just five seconds into the period. As play continued, a Knolls dump-in attempt from center ice hit one of its own players trying to get out of the zone, and the face-off came all the way into the Knolls defensive zone. Chatham’s second line then scored the winning goal out of nothing, as Andrew Fabian’s shot from the left boards was deflected in front of the net, and Rob Curcio’s turnaround shot slipped past Ofner, still searching for the puck, at the near post. Any second-line goal was clearly going to be decisive, but Knolls had plenty of time to recover.
Although Fabian hit the post soon after, Knolls eventually settled in to control the period, but its top line of Tomensky, Duda, and Steven Jones looked tired much of the period and could not find its normal magic. The period kept fans on both sides on the edge of their seats, and the possibilities for strategy – matching lines to earn a power play, how many shifts to skate the third line, when to call time-out – were limitless. Infante made three saves on the period’s only power play, and the Cougar defense did a good job of limiting Knolls to one shot per possession on the power play. Infante really came to the fore in the middle-to-late part of the period and made 14 saves in the final stanza. His biggest came from point-blank range on Tomensky with 4:31 left, and Tomensky fired the rebound wide. The game’s final 1:10, with Ofner on the bench for a sixth skater, was breathtaking stuff, with the entire arena standing and all 12 players crammed into the space below the face-off circles, but Chatham held on for a well deserved victory.
The loss snapped a 14-game Knolls winning streak in tournament play and makes the defending public state champions appear especially vulnerable entering the state tournament. Three of Knolls’ four losses to public schools in the last two years have been against Chatham, and the teams could meet again in the public semifinals if both teams advance. The win was Chatham’s second high-quality win of the year, both against Knolls, and the Cougars will have to prove they can beat somebody else in Saturday’s final and the state tournament. But Chatham essentially battled Morristown-Beard to a tie last week, losing only because the Cougars pulled their goalie while going for the win, and are playing with sky-high confidence at the moment.
Morristown-Beard 5, Randolph 2
6:17 MB (sh) #23 Corey Schneider
9:33 Ran #9 Rob Kral (#22 Ricky Roma)
11:34 Ran #12 Chris Tamminga (#10 Derek Ranger)
2:12 MB (pp) #15 Ryan Paradis (#10 Pat Yannotta)
3:26 MB (pp) #21 Dan Shurts (#9 Sam Altiero, #15 Ryan Paradis)
7:04 MB #2 Jake Lewis (#4 Mikey Minskoff)
14:55 MB (sh, en) #21 Dan Shurts
#31 Dan Swenson (Ran) 18-14
#30 John Yanchek (MB) 19-17
Power plays: Ran 0-3, MB 2-3
Chatham 2, Morris Knolls 1
1:40 MK (pp) #41 Tommy Tomensky (#14 Dan Duda, #44 Steven Jones)
11:07 Cha #36 Jeff Tompson (unassisted)
0:37 Cha #8 Rob Curcio (#14 Andrew Fabian, #19 Paul Ughetta)
#1 Michael Infante (Cha) 21-20
#33 Josh Ofner (MK) 37-35
Power plays: Cha 0-1, MK 1-3
Now that I have a second to sit back and check out the brackets, let’s see what I can come up with. First of all, I talked to several members of the seeding committee about this stuff beforehand, and I know the committee members work very hard to go into the meeting prepared and come out with fair brackets. Props to them, it is no easy task. That said, here are some of my thoughts:
St. John Vianney (6) and Chatham (4) are in my opinion too high. How does St. John Vianney finish seventh in the Gordon Conference and get seeded sixth? If you take their Gordon Conference position and rank Morristown-Beard and Bishop Eustace ahead of them, they should be No. 9. To take a different approach … usually the seeding committee favors head-to-head results over standings. But CBA was 1-0-1 against SJV, including a Feb. 8 win. St. John did beat St. Peter’s Prep twice, but those were in December! The Lancers also lost their last six Gordon games. SJV at No. 6 creates a harsh quarterfinal matchup (Delbarton-CBA, two teams that were a combined 20-for-22 in reaching the semifinals) and a harsh first-round matchup (St. Peter’s Prep-Bishop Eustace) and a relative easy quarterfinal pairing (Pope John-St. John Vianney) for two teams that have a combined one semifinal appearance all-time. Questionable.
As for Chatham at No. 4 … it’s more legit than the SJV ranking. But the fact remains that Bridgewater-Raritan beat Chatham, and Montgomery has earned the right to be ranked ahead of BR. I think Montgomery at 4 (I had them at 3, but 4 would be fine), Bridgewater at 5, and Chatham at 6 would have been more fair – and I’m a guy who hates matching up teams from the same conference! So of the high rankings, Chatham was a bit questionable and St. John Vianney was a lot questionable. The coaches of both teams are on the seeding committee (but usually try not to participate in the placement of their own team.)
The NBIAL got some (deserved) love. The top four NBIAL teams were ranked 10-11-20-21, but three of the four are paired with Northern Conference teams for the first round. I would’ve liked to see a little more geographical diversity, but that’s not a big deal. I was surprised Indian Hills was seeded ahead of Ramapo, considering Ramapo won the league by a game and a half. But, as I mentioned earlier, the committee favors head-to-head results. An eight-spot differential between Ridgewood and Ramsey is tough, but probably necessary due to the glut of competitive teams from 1-20.
At-large bids. By now, you know. Red Bank Catholic, MKA, Middletown South, Paramus, and Morris Hills got at-large bids. Verona is the only team with a real complaint about the process, and I told you two weeks ago somebody deserving was going to be left out. Paramus didn’t make the playoffs in the weakest Red Division but had head-to-head success against Morris Hills, Tenafly, and even Clifton. Verona’s only big win was St. Joseph Metuchen, and the Hillbillies lost to West Orange. Morris Hills played the toughest schedule of the borderline three. Tough call all the way around, but I’m glad the committee supported the maximum of five teams.
Mouth-watering matchups. Don’t think Randolph isn’t already worried about playing Mountain Lakes a third time if they meet in the Round of 16. And a fourth Knolls-Chatham contest in the semifinals could be really enticing. Best possible first-round games: Steinert-Wall, Ridgewood-Fair Lawn, Clifton-Ramsey, Mountain Lakes-Montclair. For the round of 16, almost every game has potential.
The private tournament. Always a different atmosphere than the public tournament because there’s very little early-round drama. For example, Gloucester Catholic should definitely be ahead of Pingry, but it doesn’t really matter, because they don’t stand much of a chance of making the quarterfinals from either spot. I’ve already touched on the matchup that will keep either Delbarton or CBA out of the semifinals. Morristown-Beard could lose in the first round or make the semifinals, they’re that unpredictable. You have to figure Seton Hall Prep against Delbarton or CBA in the private final.
I know that was critical, but I really do think the committee, by and large, did a good job with this year’s field and definitely set things up for an exciting postseason.
The Gordon Conference was created to produce classic games like Wednesday’s semifinals.
The first semifinal, between Seton Hall Prep and Don Bosco Prep, had the laid-back crispness of most games at South Mountain, and it took the unbeaten Pirates a while to get going. The fourth-seeded Ironmen, playing without first-line forward Greg Blinn, took the lead with 58.5 seconds remaining in the first period. Skating out of his own zone, Billy Sanborn banked a soft pass off the right boards to Chris Buquicchio crossing the blue line. Buquicchio wristed a shot on net from the right circle that snuck through Zach Truesdell to give Bosco a 1-0 lead.
The Ironmen went up 2-0 early in the second period on the game’s only power play, although the play came in transition, rather than in an offensive-zone set. With a three-on-two on the left side, Sanborn made a slick backdoor pass that, although it was slowed down by a Pirate defenseman’s stick, found Kevin Reich arriving to finish just inside the right post to make it a 2-0 game. As so often happens, the goal seemed to wake Seton Hall Prep up, and the Pirates got back into things less than two minutes later when Matt Markovich slid a pass out of the right corner to a cutting Jan Trampota, who one-timed the puck just inside the left post. Seton Hall Prep tied the game four minutes later, when, from behind the net, John Passantino fed Chris Preziosi in the slot, and Bosco goalie Erick Cinotti could not hold his wrist shot.
The third period was a stop-start affair at times, with Seton Hall Prep coach Peter Herms complaining about Don Bosco’s sloppy line changes on the numerous stoppages of play. Herms kept skating three lines most of the period, while Gene Katz mixed and matched but seemed to shorten his bench a bit. The Ironmen had the better of play in the third period, with Truesdell reacting well to stop a sneaky backhand from the outstanding Sanborn and Reich ringing the crossbar with 1:59 remaining.
Seton Hall Prep had a definite advantage in overtime, with Bosco’s first line visibly weary. The Pirates dominated much of the period and finally cashed in to preserve their unbeaten record at the 9:42 mark. John Passantino swept in from the right wing, dragging a defender, and forced Cinotti dive to save his backhand attempt. The rebound lay loose in the low slot, and Preziosi reached it first to pop the puck into the now vacant net for the winning goal.
The overtime threw a wrench into my plan to cruise up Route 10 and make it to Randolph for most of the Delbarton-CBA game. In the end, I missed both goals in that game by about one traffic light.
Delbarton dominated the first two periods, if shot counts are any indication, but CBA struck first midway through the second period. Just after a power play ended, Mark Rivera was able to redirect a point shot from Michael Zuppe to give the sixth-seeded Colts the advantage. Delbarton won both meetings between the teams this year, and the Green Wave were back on level terms within 40 seconds, as third-line forward Zach Williams netted the tying goal. Williams’ return from injury has solidified Delbarton’s third line.
Its top two units were unable to crack Gary Kondler, however, and CBA seemed intent on duplicating its 2-1 overtime triumph in last year’s private championship game. The Colts got a mid-period power play in the third, and although Delbarton’s Jeff Leone had to make three saves in the first half of the power play, the best chance fell to Delbarton. Dan Pressl earned a neutral-zone steal for a breakaway, but could not find the net after deking to his backhand. Kondler later stopped consecutive shots from Williams and made a big save on Alex Smigelski with a minute remaining to send the game to overtime.
Delbarton appeared to have a slight advantage in overtime, with CBA content to rely on counterattacks and shoot from the blue line to test Leone. The period was fraught with tension on both sides, even moreso than in the Seton Hall Prep game, and seemed to bring out the best in both teams. With three minutes left in the 15-minute period, the Colts were clearly confident they would have an advantage in a shootout, relying on Kondler to outplay Leone.
So, five years after their epic private semifinal shootout, CBA and Delbarton were at it again. CBA won the coin toss, so Delbarton shot first. Kondler denied Matt Schillings with a poke check after Schillings moved to his backhand, but Leone answered by stopping Trevor Van Riemsdyk’s attempt at the five-hole. In the second round, Kondler foiled Pressl with a glove save, but CBA’s Mike Chilton missed while trying to beat Leone stick-side.
In the third round, Smigelski deked to his forehand and skated back to the Delbarton bench with celebratory shouts, but Kondler, flat on his stomach, had made a glove save to keep the shootout scoreless. Alex DePalma then gave CBA the lead, beating Leone with a fake to his forehand. Kondler had already stopped arguably Delbarton’s three best breakaway threats, but Charles Nerbak followed Smigelski’s lead by deking to his forehand and flipping it over Kondler’s glove. Leone responded with his best save of the shootout, a pad save on a low shot by Brett DePalma.
With the shootout tied 1-1 heading into the fifth round, Chris Volonnino confidently deked to his forehand before sliding the puck under Kondler for a 2-1 lead. Rivera responded with maybe the best-taken penalty shot, given the pressure, roofing a wrist shot to force extra frames. Freshman Alex Velischek stepped up for Delbarton’s sixth shot, snapping a left-handed shot past Kondler’s stick for a 3-2 lead. Needing to score, Ken Jordan tried to duplicate Rivera’s shot but missed high, and Delbarton advanced to its second Gordon Cup championship appearance in as many tries. Imagine what a fourth meeting would be like … you could see it in the private quarterfinals.
Seton Hall Prep 3, Don Bosco Prep 2, OT
14:01 DBP #12 Chris Buquicchio (#21 Billy Sanborn)
2:10 DBP (pp) #7 Kevin Reich (#21 Billy Sanborn)
4:01 SHP #19 Jan Trampota (#10 Matt Markovich, #7 Matt Kufta)
8:00 SHP #12 Chris Preziosi (#26 John Passantino, #24 Nick Passantino)
9:42 SHP #12 Chris Preziosi (#26 John Passantino)
#1 Erick Cinotti (DBP) 33-30
#30 Zach Truesdell (SHP) 26-24
Power plays: DBP 1-1
Delbarton 2, CBA 2, OT (Delbarton advances 3-2 in shootout)
7:03 CBA #21 Mark Rivera (#7 Michael Zuppe, #8 Ken Jordan)
7:42 Del #25 Zach Williams (#13 Erik Olson, #2 Brian Fuller)
#36 Gary Kondler (CBA) 36-35
#35 Jeff Leone (Del) 23-22
Power plays: CBA 0-2, Del 0-1
CBA – Alex DePalma, Mark Rivera
Del – Charles Nerbak, Chris Volonnino, Alex Velischek
CBA – Kondler 3-6
Del – Leone 2-4
State tournament brackets are up. Click on the ‘states’ link above to get the brackets for the 2006 state tournaments.