MORRIS TOWNSHIP, NJ — Be wary with the man-advantage against Chatham because the Cougars’ penalty-killing unit is among the most disciplined in the state.
Jack Williams gave 11th-seeded Millburn a lead three minutes into the game, but sixth-seeded Chatham never wavered recording not one, but two shorthanded goals to turn the tables on the Millers with a 4-1 victory in the NJSIAA Public C Sweet-16 at Mennen Arena in Morris Township.
Chatham, which skated for the Public C state title last season, kept its hopes of a return trip to “The Rock” in the cards improving to 12-11-2. The Cougars await the winner of #3 Lakeland vs. #14 Glen Rock in the quarterfinals.
“We have a mass amount of shorthanded goals — it’s just a great defensive system,” said Evan Schmidt, whose shorthanded marker 1:02 into the second period gave Chatham a 2-1 advantage and a lead the Cougars would not relinquish. “We just have a great penalty kill, great defensive coaches and a great system. It’s really aggressive. We pressure and pressure, get pucks out, and have a great breakout.”
“Our special teams and penalty killing have been really good all year. Two shorthanded goals tonight — that’s kind of our motto — to be ultra aggressive and jump on pucks when we can,” Chatham coach Brendon Herr said. “We killed a couple of big penalties in the first and Zach Pendergrast made a couple of great saves. It showed.”
Jack Williams opened the scoring with an unassisted Millburn goal just 3:10 into the game — and very nearly made it 2-0 moments later — but Chatham came right back 4:40 after the opening goal was scored when Brandon Lupi hit with assists from Matt Keane and Danny Mahoney.
“I mean… I don’t know I was just about doing everything I could,” Williams said. “We talked about getting up first. I got a lucky bounce, got a little lucky on the move, too, but it worked. Another bounce up the boards pretty close after. We still had the momentum and just tried to keep it going.”
Things got testy toward the end of the first frame as sticks from both teams came up after the whistle. Christian Ivancich was assessed a two-minute minor for slashing to give Millburn a power play to begin the second frame, but the man-advantage did not work out as planned for the Millers.
Just 1:02 into the second frame, Jack Deletto fed a streaking Schmidt who scored, shorthanded, to give Chatham its first lead of the game, 2-1.
“We got it going in the second,” Schmidt said. “I just came down, fired it and from there we just kept rolling. We knew we had it.”
Chatham continued to pour it on and added an insurance goal when Nate Marshall made it a 3-1 game with 2:40 remaining in the second. Deletto and Matt Keane picked up assists.
Millburn (16-5-3), which successfully defended its Kelly Cup, never stopped battling. The Millers were afforded a five-minute power play with 11:13 remaining in regulation but couldn’t solve Pendergrast a second time. Millburn peppered the Chatham senior goalie with four shots on the man-advantage before Keane set up Nick Meyer for the Cougars’ second shorthanded goal with 6:28 to go.
“We kept our heads up,” Marshall said. “We are generally a very good shorthanded team. We’re very aggressive when we need to be and our aggression paid off today.”
“Up 1-0, Jack very nearly makes it 2-0… we couldn’t capitalize on our opportunities early and I think that hurt us,” Millburn coach Brandon Doria said. “And then you look at the the power plays — we started off the second period with a power play and they scored, shorthanded, to go up 2-1… that hurt. Then the five-minute major and they score again. Chatham executed. They were the better team today. They’re deep, they all work hard… today they got the best of us. You can’t win too many games giving up two shorthanded goals.”
Lupi got the scoring started for Chatham, just four minutes after Millburn to a 1-0 lead.
“Danny Mahoney shot it from the point. It went behind the net. I just tapped it up and smacked it in,” Lupi said. “It was still early in the game. We knew we could get back right quick. That goal really helped us get the momentum back — it was very important — it turned it around. When we work together good things happen.”
Pendergrast finished with 16 saves for Chatham. His counterpart at the other end of the ice, Eli Nadell, finished with 16 saves as well but it was not to be for the Millers which felt slighted with the 11th-seed despite a solid out-of-division schedule.
“No one ever wants to end a season like this,” Williams said. “Back-to-back (Kelly Cups) couldn’t ask for anything else. I had the best linemates anyone could ever ask for — Matt Riskin and Ryan Potechin. We’ve gone the furthest the team has ever gone before.”
“The boys had a great season. I’m very proud of them,” Doria said. “To battle all year long and win back-to-back Kelly Cups… it’s not the ending we hoped for but the year was very positive for our group overall.”
Chatham is aiming to win two more games to return to Prudential Center, the site for the 2019 NJSIAA/Devils State Championships scheduled for March 4 in Newark.
“We can go all the way — we want The Pru!” junior defenseman Danny Mahoney said. “Just getting shots on net and keeping our heads up Just smart plays, chipping it out of the zone, odd-man rushes with a man down — nothing better than that. We can do it with hard work.”
“We’ve got a good senior group here — they’re confident,” Herr said. “That (first goal) didn’t faze us too much. After that goal was scored, the guys picked each other up. There wasn’t any negativity. We got the first (shorthanded) one, Pendergrast made some big saves and got us going.”
Written by John Christian Hageny / @JCCSPORTS
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