WEST ORANGE — You may enjoy a lot of success on the ice. You may not experience any. But if you are lucky enough to call yourself a teammate among 24 others hoisting the cup, you will always remember your first.
After falling short twice in the Kelly Cup finals in 2004 and 2017, Millburn left no doubt as Spencer Brown and Matt Riskin each scored twice while Jack Williams and Samuel Charlat each added a goal and two assists as the mighty Millers captured its first cup in school history with a historic 6-3 triumph over Cranford before a packed house in the 2018 cup final at Codey Arena in West Orange.
“Unbelievable — it’s awesome,” senior Spencer Brown, who opened the scoring just 56 seconds into the game, said. “It was a team effort from the seniors to the freshmen, everyone did their job and worked for this. That’s how it goes.”
“Teamwork — it’s all in the team,” Riskin, a sophomore, said. “We all made plays. We helped each other. We set each other up. We win as a team and we lose as a team.”
Charlat was a second line sophomore when Millburn fell to Gov. Livingston in the 2017 final.
“They came back late and we were so disappointed,” said Chalat, who set up each of Millburn’s first two goals. “This year, we crashed the net, we shot everything at the net, worked hard and got it done. It’s great to win it in front of our fans who saw everything. We proved to our school we can excel.”
After Brown made it 1-0 in the first minute of the game, Charlat fed Jack Williams 3:23 later as Millburn jumped out to a 2-0 lead. Cranford came right back, however, when Ryan Malko scored his first of to goals on the power play with 6:57 left in the first period.
The Millers went back to work in the second period when Riskin found the back of the net 5:18 into the middle frame to make it 3-1, but once again Cranford did not quit as Ethan Otani made it a one-goal game just 2:15 later.
In a wild flurry to end the second period, Charlat put Millburn back in front 4-2 with 1:20 left but Cranford never stopped battling and made it a one-goal game for the third time when Malko found twine with 54 seconds left.
Three goals in the final three minutes of the second frame sent Millburn into the second intermission clinging to a 4-3 lead.
“We weren’t safe,” Millburn coach Brandon Doria said. “We couldn’t get away from the one-goal lead but we found something, a little bit of life.”
The game remained tightly-contested until Riskin broke free of the Cougars’ defense and beat goalie Harry Devenney (31 saves) with 1:50 remaining in regulation. The goal gave the Millers some breathing room while forcing Cranford to pull its goalie in favour of an extra attacker in hopes of pulling out a comeback.
It was not to be, however, as Brown added the icing on the cake for Millburn with an empty-net goal with 50 seconds left.
“Their fifth goal was a heart-breaker,” Malko said. “It sucks. I like our group, I like our fight, we gave it all on the ice… it was tiny mistakes which cost us the game and there’s really nothing you can do about it.”
Cranford defeated Millburn, 4-3, on Jan. 27 to split the regular season series with Millburn, but the Millers were dead-set on bringing home their first cup in school history.
“I think they wanted it more,” Malko added. “They kept us in our zone for a while and beat us to 50/50’s. It came down to loose puck battles and it’s hard work that wins games — that’s why we lost.”
Millburn (15-3-6), which received 21 saves from freshman goalie Eli Nadell in the win, will always cherish its first.
“It feels great,” Doria, who won two Gordon Cups as a player in 1998 and 1999, said. “Obviously it was goal of ours after losing last year we wanted to come back out and try to win it this year. At the beginning of the year we were up and down. Towards the end we weren’t playing as well as we should have, but we bounced back come playoffs, played a very good Cranford team tonight and fortunately we were able to pull it off in the end.”
— Robert Aitken Jr. (@RobertAitkenJr) February 17, 2018
The Millers will celebrate the triumph over the weekend before turning its attention to the NJSIAA Public B state tournament where it will take on 19th-seeded Brick Memorial as the 14th-seed back here on Feb. 19 at 3:30 p.m.
Cranford evens its record at 10-10-4. The 2016 Union Cup champs will look to get back on track against 17th-seeded Hopwell Valley as the 16th-seed in the Public C tournament set for Feb. 19 at Warinanco Park in Roselle at 6 p.m.
“We played tough. Millburn came to play and won most of the 50/50 battles,” Cranford coach Rich Hurley said. “We didn’t take care of our defensive zone as well as we had hoped but credit to them, they worked hard and made things really tough for us.
“But they kept working, never got down and came back three times. We just couldn’t get the equalizer,” Hurley added. “We had a number of opportunities, were unlucky and missed a couple.”
Written by John Christian Hageny / @JCCSPORTS
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