MORRIS TOWNSHIP, NJ — Not a single player on the roster was born the last time Madison skated in the same division as Morris County powers Chatham, Morristown, Morristown-Beard and Morris Knolls — some of the coaches too — but after the Dodgers’ 18-7-1 finish last winter, Madison returned to the upper echelon of the MCSSIHL for the first time since 1983.
Back in the mix and making up for lost time, Madison is reaping punishment on the league, proving not only that it belongs, but is a viable contender for its first-ever Mennen Cup.
“It’s a huge accomplishment. When I first started at Madison we had nine players,” Madison coach Dave Hansen, in his 15th season of a career that began in 2004-05, said. “We’re in the Haas and the Charette barely getting by, but now we’re in the Mennen Division. A lot of alumni can’t believe it, not only that we’re up here competing, but winning games — it’s pretty overwhelming.”
Dave Renzulli gave Madison the lead it was looking for just 2:01 into the game, but Morris Knolls/Hills battled back to tie it off the stick of Jason Miesegaes with 8:00 left in the second period before both goalies, Matt Ubertaccio and Ty Franchi, went into lockdown en route to a 1-1 tie at Mennen Arena in Morris Township.
Morris Knolls peppered Ubertaccio with 34 shots, the senior netminder turning aside 33, while his counterpart at the other end of the ice, Franchi, stood tall with 24 saves of his own, including 15 in a crucial third-period that featured the best from both during a penalty-riddled final frame.
After falling short in their previous meeting on Dec. 12, 3-2, Madison came in with an ax to grind riding an eight-game unbeaten streak.
“We really needed a jump. Something to really get the team going,” Renzulli said, describing his goal two minutes into the game. “I was just working the puck around with Jason Siedem and Cormac McNamara. We opened up the play, saw the lane and took the shot — top-left corner — it was a good shot and got the momentum going.”
Both teams exchanged power play opportunities in the first but neither team could break through as Madison (11-3-4) skated into the first intermission up 1-0 despite being outshot 14-6. Morris Knolls (8-8-3) continued peppering Ubertaccio from all angles and finally beat the Dodgers’ senior goalie on its third shot while on the power play during a scramble in front as the rebound came to Miesegaes, who made no mistake tying the game at one. The goal, coming at 8:00 of the second period, was assisted by Andrew Ryan and James Betts.
“A point shot from Derek Coleman, a rebound on the power play came right out to me in front of the net and I put it in,” Miesegaes said. “Their goalie was the main stopping force for us. Even though we outshot them, I think we outplayed them, too, in the offensive zone. We just stuck to our game plan: keep playing hard and keep pucks out of our end of the ice.
“We’ve been on a roll of our own lately — four wins in a row — so we didn’t want to change much,” Miesegaes said. “But it was a nail-biter right down to the end.”
Despite seven penalties totaling 22 minutes in the box during a wild third-period that created several mismatches, including a Madison 5-on-3 man-advantage with 1:20 remaining in regulation, neither team was able to solve Ubertaccio or Franchi again. But despite the tie, both teams were content with how they battled.
“I thought we played well, really shored up our defense and took away time and space from some of their guns,” Morris Knolls assistant coach Bruce McCarter said. “They’ve got some guys that can really skate and put the puck in the net. We were really focused on having a strong defensive game. Missed opportunities? Maybe a couple, but they did also. A lot of penalties called. Some great penalty killing on both sides so to walk out with a tie? We’re happy with that.”
Franchi stood on his head, flashing a quick glove and quicker pads to keep Madison off the board in the third.
“First shot goes in, couldn’t see it,” Franchi said. “Told the team to start moving bodies in front because I never saw it. Third-period, they really played great defense. I saw everything. The team really picked me up. Uber played amazing, he’s got a lot of talent over there so we can’t be too disappointed. Happy to pick up the tie tonight.”
Ubertaccio echoed his counterpart’s sentiments.
“Morris Knolls was throwing everything at the net. They’re a very strong team, very well coached — it was a difficult game,” Ubertaccio said. “We slowed down a little bit, which cost us a goal in the second period but we held ’em.”
With the tie, Madison stands 5-2-3 with 13 points within the Mennen Division, three back of division leader Randolph (16). Morris Knolls/Hills is right behind with 11 points with about two weeks remaining in the regular season.
“It’s just the guys working hard and playing for each other,” Hansen, who celebrated his 200th-career victory at Madison on Jan. 5, said. “For 30 minutes we didn’t show up tonight. We showed up in the third, but we need to play a full 45 minutes to play with these guys. Morris Knolls is a very talented team. All these guys, Chatham, Morristown-Beard, they’re all very competitive but it’s good for these guys to know we can compete with these guys. Right now, we’re just taking it one game at a time, but that’s what it’s going to come down to at states.”
“From Haas Division to a Mennen Cup contender — it’s definitely huge,” Ubertaccio said. “We’re here to show the rest of the state we are a team to watch for in the state finals.
Written by John Christian Hageny / @JCCSPORTS
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