WEST ORANGE, NJ — It looked as though overtime loomed, but Jackson Williams wasn’t looking forward to the prospect of that extra stanza.
The senior forward from Millburn whistled a power play shot past a group of players jostling in the slot with 54 seconds remaining to send second-seeded and defending champion Millburn to a 2-1 victory over fifth-seeded Cranford in the championship of the Kelly Cup at Codey Arena in West Orange on Friday.
It marked the second straight Kelly Cup for Millburn (16-4-3) and featured a reematch of last year’s Kelly Cup final.
Millburn, which split its regular season series with Cranford, had the power play after a holding penalty at 13:02 of the third. Millers’ coach Brandon Doria took his lone timeout with just over a minute showing in regulation and a face-off to the left of Cranford’s goal.
“There’s always a chance at that point that a game can go into overtime,” said Williams, “but we definitely wanted to try and end it there. We wanted to set it up and get a good look and maybe something goes in. I was up top and I knew if the goalie can’t see the puck than I have a better chance of scoring. Cranford’s defense played amazing and their goalie was outstanding, but we were able to sneak on in at the end. This feels great. With under a minute left you couldn’t ask for a better ending. ”
Millburn had fired 15 shots on goal while allowing just three on its own net in the final period, but Cranford goalie Harry Devenny was outstanding.
“The whole team played well,” said the junior, who finished with 31 saves, “but towards the end they just outplayed us a bit and snuck one in. It was unlucky for us the way it ended. That last two minutes I was thinking just kill it and get to overtime and see what happens. We played a helluva a game, maybe our best this season. It just wasn’t enough in the end.”
Millburn goalie Eli Nadell stopped 14 out of 15 shots.
Millburn coach Brandon Doria, the former Seton Hall Prep All-Stater and New Jersey Hockey Hall of Fame Inductee, wanted to merely settle his club down with the timeout to set up the power play.
“I told them to relax,” Doria said. “They looked a little tight. We got some shots but we weren’t getting anything in front. We got some congestion in front and it went in. Cranford has a very good team and their goalie played outstanding. We got two gritty goals and we knew that we’d have to get in close to score, and fortunately we were able to get a couple of breaks.
“We have a good offensive group and I just told them to keep shooting. Their goalie was playing outrageous so we had to keep peppering him. It was fitting that Jackson Williams scored because he’s been one of the backbones to our season.”
Millburn, which extended its winning streak to four games, has not lost since a 4-0 setback against Seton Hall Prep, No. 6 in the Hockey Night In Boston New Jersey Top 10 poll, on Jan. 27.
Although Cranford (10-12-2) was outshot, 33-15, overall coach Mike Olzolnieks’ club was defensively poised throughout the 45-minute contest. The Cougars, who lost in the Kelly Cup final to Millburn last year, advanced into the final after hanging a 4-1 upset on top-seeded West Essex in the semifinal round. Cranford, which won the Handchen Cup in 1996, was seeking its first title since capturing the Union County Cup in 2016.
Cranford surprised Millburn when Anthony Massoni connected on his club’s first shot, giving it a 1-0 advantage just 1:45 into the first. Matthew Womelsdorf picked up an assist on the goal.
Millburn evened it a 1-1 on Ryan Potechin’s power play goal off assists from Isaac Lenner and Ronan Stewart at 4:11 of the first period.
Cranford battled back and swung some momentum its way in the second, out-shooting Millburn 8-7. The Cougars yielded Millburn few choice opportunities and were able to close off nearly all shooting lanes between the dots. Their penalty killing unit was effective, killing off four minor penalties, and a major in the first period that gave Millburn a five-minute power play.
“We had to take away their time and space and collapse down low in our end,” said Cranford coach Mike Olzolnieks. “I thought we did a great job at that. I think in the end we were a little gassed but our boys were still battling. We gave up two power play goals but they showed a lot of heart. In the end you have to kill a penalty and that was tough. I thought this game would come down to a grimy goal or a bouncing puck. Our team showed the heart and effort. Sometimes it doesn’t go your way.”
Kelly Cup Champions
2018-Millburn GAME STORY
2017-Gov. Livingston-New Providence GAME STORY
2016-West Essex-Caldwell GAME STORY
Written by Paul Bruno / @PaulBrunoHS
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