Cranford Tops Verona-Glen Ridge, 3-2, for First Kelly Cup in Team History

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WEST ORANGE — Matteo Wilde summed it all up with one word: determination.

After two previous attempts, the Cougars finally cashed in with goals from Wilde, Jack Templeton and Pat Tuohy while Harry Devenny steered aside 19 shots as second-seeded Cranford defeated top-seed Verona-Glen Ridge for its first Kelly Cup in school history with a 3-2 victory at Codey Arena in West Orange.

The triumph marked Cranford’s first cup since capturing the Union County Cup in 2016 and third overall after winning the Handchen Cup way back in 1996.

(Photo by Mark Carosiello/HockeyClan)

Templeton, a senior, was on each of the past two Cranford teams which fell short in the Kelly Cup finals to Millburn in 2018-’19.

“I was getting flashbacks in the middle of the game,” Templeton said with a laugh. “It was with me the whole way. It wasn’t a good feeling so we knew we had to come win it today. This one will definitely be with me forever.”

“We had a great feeling coming in,” said Wilde, who wasted no time putting Cranford on the board 1:12 into the game. “It was a good start. The first goal really set the tone. We never got down on ourselves, kept the positivity and kept fighting. We knew we were getting into a battle coming in — we just needed to execute.”

Zach Gold tied it up at 1-1 for Verona with 5:37 left in the first, assisted by Alec Vecchione, but Templeton took matters into his own hands and buried the next one 2:42 later to put Cranford back in front, 2-1, with 2:55 to go in the opening frame.

(Photo by Mark Carosiello/HockeyClan)

“The game was back and forth the whole time,” Templeton said. “The puck came straight out to me in the middle so I had a pretty clear shot — bottom-left corner right below the blocker. I saw it and picked it. It was a game-changer. Happy it went in, but we knew we still had a long game ahead of us.”

A high-flying first gave way to a rugged, grinding second frame with both teams delivering punishing open-ice hits and crushing blows along the boards.

Verona appeared to tie the game at 2-2 in the second period but the apparent goal was waved off by officials after what may have been a high stick.

“It’s hard to argue with that because the guy blows his whistle. If he sees that Cranford touched the puck there’s really no argument,” VGR head coach Ken Lilien said. “I can’t be sure 100 percent if he did or not but he came over and explained it. He thought Cranford had touched the puck (with a high stick) before it went in the net.”

(Photo by Mark Carosiello/HockeyClan)

Cranford (11-6-1) went up 3-1 with 1:34 left in the second when Tuohy finished the play started by Connor Howard and Aidan Plick.

“We dumped it in and got an awkward bounce off the net,” Tuohy said. “Howard gave me a nice pass slide across, I saw (VGR goalie Chris Kostas) open up and and I just put it five-hole.”

Tuohy’s marker proved to be the game-winner, but there was little to celebrate at the time, especially after Gold buried another one for Verona — this time with six seconds left in the second period to cut it to 3-2.

“We were getting ready for the faceoff and coach called me over to the bench and told me to shoot the puck,” Gold said. “My D-partner passed it over to me, an open shot and I just put it in.”

Matteo Wilde, Jack Templeton and Pat Tuohy scored while Harry Devenny steered aside 19 shots as second-seeded Cranford defeated top-seed Verona-Glen Ridge for its first Kelly Cup in school history with a 3-2 victory at Codey Arena in West Orange on Feb. 21, 2020. (Photo by Mark Carosiello/HockeyClan)

“They came out hard,’ Gold, who accounted for both Verona goals, said. “They were the better team today so props to them. I thought we could have made a comeback with that late second-period goal but it happens. It was definitely unlucky for us we still should have one more in.”

Navigating the swings in momentum has been a tactic instilled by Cranford coach Mike Ozolniecks, Tuohy said.

“Coach always tells us to stay even-keeled the whole game. We appreciate that mentality and keep it going like that — that’s why we’ve won a lot of games and that’s what we did tonight.”

(Photo by Mark Carosiello/HockeyClan)

“A goal like that toward at the end of a period is always a tough momentum swing,” Ozolniecks said. “But this difference between this year and years past is we know how to re-settle. We always talk about being even-keeled no matter what happens we keep playing. We talked about, ‘winning your shift, winning your shift.'”

Devenny (19 saves) kept the door closed in the third to snuff out any hope of a third-period rally for Verona, which received a standout 28-save game from Kostas, the NJIIHL Player of the Month for January.

“The boys in the locker room knew this year was our year,” Ozolniecks said. “We knew it all along. We’ve been here in the past, we know what it’s like to be on the losing end and just decided this year we were going to change the way this organization plays hockey. We’re a winning team now.”

(Photo by Mark Carosiello/HockeyClan)

It was a disappointing end for the top-seeded Hillbillies, but Lilien was proud of the way his team battled down the stretch.

“Taking my hat off to Cranford, I think they were really ready to go,” Lilien said. “I was a little bit nervous about the fact we’d beaten them 8-0 in their rink last time (on Jan. 29).

“Little bit of a slow start for us, but we fought back with that big goal at the end of the second by Gold — he was tremendous — but hats off to Cranford today they were the better team for 45 minutes,” Lilien said. “They stayed with it and we couldn’t find that tying goal.”

After falling short in the title bout each of the last two seasons, including 2-1 loss to Millburn on a goal in the final minute of regulation, there was no denying Cranford this time.

(Photo by Mark Carosiello/HockeyClan)

Ozolniecks said the path to the cup began even before the season started.

After falling short in last season’s cup finale, senior Luke Pachkowski sat down with the coaching staff and said he wanted this year to be different.

“Going to the championship, alone, was more than anyone who really knows us thought we were going to do,” Pachkowski told Ozolniecks. “I had the best year and I’m only looking to get better. Next year I want that Kelly Cup. My senior season starts tomorrow and as captain I’m going to do all I can to get everyone to work as hard as I am before next (season). We did a lot of good things but we need to get better and that’s the bottom line.”

“This kid is the reason we had success this year,” Ozolniecks said.

Pachkowski’s leadership was contagious and the rest of the Cougars followed suit.

“It just shows the teamwork, the hard work, the love for each other — we’re brothers — all around,” Wilde said. “It was a great experience. One word can describe it — determination. We wanted this from the beginning of the year, for the guys on this team who have lost this Kelly Cup two years in a row — we wanted this.”

“It’s just awesome,” Tuohy said. “There was a lot of anger built up in the room after the last (Kelly Cup) game. We’d worked so hard to get there. After last year, we knew we needed to do more so we started workouts in the spring — all of that to get to this moment right now. This is for all the years to come and for all the seniors who weren’t able to win it past years.”

(Photo by Mark Carosiello/HockeyClan)
(Photo by Mark Carosiello/HockeyClan)
(Photo by Mark Carosiello/HockeyClan)

Scoring

1-0 C Matteo Wilde (Jack DeSimone) 13:48-1st

1-1 V Zach Gold (Alec Vecchione) 5:37-1st

2-1 C Jack Templeton (Luke Pachkowski) 2:55-1st

3-1 C Patrick Tuohy (Connor Howard, Aidan Plick) 1:34-2nd

3-2 V Zach Gold (Alec Vecchione, Aidan Brennan) 0:06-2nd

Shots: 31-21 Cranford; Chris Kostas, VGR, 28 saves; Harry Devenny, C, 19 saves

 

 

Written by John Christian Hageny  @JCCSPORTS 

Special to HockeyClan

 

Photos by Mark Carosiello / @SnapthePicture6

 

 

KELLY CUP CHAMPIONS

2019-Millburn GAME STORY
2018-
Millburn GAME STORY
2017-
Governor Livingston/New Providence
2010-
Paul VI 
2009-
Hunterdon Central
2008
-South Brunswick
2007-Johnson
2006-Hillsborough
2005-Watchung Hills
2004-West Orange
2003-Dayton

 

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