MORRIS TOWNSHIP, NJ — In the right place at the opportune time, Northern Highlands’ freshman Will Fuller’s tip off a rebound 21 seconds into overtime gave the seventh-seeded Highlanders the edge in a 1-0 upset over second-seeded Madison in the NJSIAA Public C quarterfinals at Mennen Arena in Morris Township.
For Northern Highlands, the defending Public B state champions, the game-winning goal in sudden-death fashion brought a sigh of relief following 45:20 of scoreless, edge-of-your-seat hockey.
Northern Highlands (9-10-3) advances to take on sixth-seeded Chatham in Wednesday’s semifinal round at Codey Arena in West Orange. The Cougars advanced by knocking off third-seeded Lakeland, 5-0. Each of the top three seeds in Public C, including #1 Indian Hills have been eliminated in what is shaping up to be a wild post-season in the Garden State.
Fuller’s goal was the only blemish in a classic goaltending duel between Northern Highlands’ John Werber and the Dodgers’ Matt Ubertaccio for Madison (17-4-5). Werber stopped all 19 shots he faced while Ubertaccio finished with 20 saves.
Northern Highlands went on the attack at the onset of overtime with defenseman Sean Vlasich setting the wheels in motion by chipping a loose puck up from mid-ice to Mark Cinotti. The senior forward gained the offensive zone with the puck and fired a low shot on net. Ubertaccio made the initial stop, but Fuller was there to tap the puck in.
“I just tapped it in because it was sitting on the goal line,” Fuller said. “We came up to the middle of the blue line and Mark took the shot.”
Ubertaccio still managed to get a piece of Fuller’s shot before it trickled across the goal line.
“It was a nice play from our defenseman,” Cinotti said. “I believe somehow the puck ended up around the red line on the boards. Vlasich makes a great chip up to me, I cut in, Fuller makes a great drive to the net, I see him, I shoot low and I believe he bangs it through the five-hole. Either way, it was a great shot from me down low and a better finish from him.”
Werber was tested over the first 20 minutes when he successfully thwarted two Madison power play opportunities.
“There were two great goaltenders at both ends of the ice,” Northern Highlands coach Jason Beswick said. “We came out on top and I couldn’t be happier. John has been getting steadily better every single game this year. He’s in a great place and has come together at the right time.”
Madison, which beat Randolph, 3-1, on Feb. 15 to win the Mennen Cup, had the better of the play early in the contest, including several good chances on the two power plays that Werber thwarted. Midway through the second period, Northern Highlands began to turn things around.
Ubertaccio kept the game scoreless with a point-blank save on a shot by Jack Sparago with 4:45 left in the second period and then had to reach high to make a glove save on a long wrist shot from Vlasich with 3:19 to go. Northern Highlands almost put the game away in regulation when Aidan Connolly found Trevor Hernandez on the left wing on a 2-on-1 with 2:40 to play, but Ubertaccio stood his ground and forced Hernandez to shoot wide.
“It was a hard fought game — on both sides,” Madison coach Dave Hansen said. “Their guy just came in and took a shot, the puck was just standing there and it went right through my goalie’s legs and trickled in. I said it was going to be a one-goal game going in.”
“At the end of the day they got the lucky bounce. It didn’t go our way,” Hansen said. “It was a goalie battle. Their goaltender was outstanding tonight and I thought ours was just as good. They got the one extra lucky bounce.
Written by Gerry Davidove
Special to HockeyClan
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