MORRIS TOWNSHIP — It figured that this contest would come down to a greasy goal, and Kyle Conklin was able to deliver it in overtime for Morris Knolls.
Lurking in the low slot, the sturdy junior forward buried a feed from linemate Sean Murray at 7:21 of overtime to send fourth-seeded Morris Knolls past fifth-seeded Morristown, 2-1, in the quarterfinal round of the Mennen Cup at Mennen Arena.
The tally concluded a tightly contested, typical Mennen Division battle and allows Morris Knolls (11-8-2) to advance into the semifinal round to face top-seeded Randolph, No. 4 in the Hockey Night In Boston New Jersey Top 10, at Mennen Arena on Feb. 14. Morris Knolls was edged, 4-3, by eighth-ranked Morristown-Beard in last year’s Mennen final.
“I had to go to the net — that’s all I was thinking,” said Conklin of his fourth goal of the season. “Sean Murray gave a great effort and the puck hopped out and it was right there for me. I think their goalie (Derrek Peck) lost sight of the puck and I was kind of surprised I was open. Going into overtime we just refused to lose. This was a total team effort.”
Morris Knolls, 4-0-2 in its last six games, had split the regular season series with Morristown. The Golden Eagles found themselves facing a 1-0 deficit in the third period before elevating its game big-time in the final period.
The Golden Eagles swarmed Morristown’s zone for much of the final stanza, outshooting the Colonials, 14-5, and were able to square it at 1-1 when Robbie Singley darted in from the left point and whipped a low shot that snuck past a screened Peck (31 saves) stick-side 3:35 into the period.
The equalizer gave the Morris Knolls’ offense some life as Peck was called upon to make sparkling stops on shots from Jacob Walsh twice and Timmy Kepler over the final four minutes before heading to overtime.
“We took it to them in the third,” said Murray, a junior. “We knew we had to take control in the overtime and it was key to win the puck battles. I got the puck in the corner and pushed it toward the net and it may have bounced off one of their defenseman and Kyle (Conklin) was right there to finish it off. I can’t wait until Wednesday to play Randolph.”
Morristown, which bowed to Randolph, 4-2, in last year’s quarterfinal, did not fall back at all in the overtime. The Colonials created several opportunities of their own in the opening six minutes, throwing pucks into the corners before hunting them down.
Morris Knolls’ goalie Ty Franchi (23 saves) denied a Nate DeFares shot before stopping the rebound from Connor Critchley 3:57 into the overtime. Eight seconds later Franchi robbed DeFares off the ensuing face-off.
“We definitely had some opportunities in the overtime,” Morristown coach Bobby Jones said. “We lost some momentum and started running around a little in the third, but we felt good going into overtime. We were able to trap pretty well, and I thought both goalies played very well. Derrek Peck was our best player tonight. Morris Knolls works hard and they can skate. I didn’t think one goal for either team was enough to win. But you kind of knew a game like this would be decided by a dirty goal.”
Morristown (9-11-3) didn’t waste time jumping on top when Critchley took a nifty DeFares pass and rifled a shot stick-side just 21 seconds into the game for a 1-0 lead. It was the sophomore’s 12th goal on the season.
DeFares nearly made it 2-0 when he sped in on Franchi on a shorthanded breakaway, but his backhand attempt sailed just wide with 12 seconds left in the first period.
“I had it,” Morristown’s senior co-captain, who has 29 points on 13 goals and 16 assists this winter, said. “I had the goalie beat and maybe I got a little excited when I let the shot go, but every game in the Mennen Cup is tough to win. It’s a hard tournament to win. Their overtime goal just kind of came out in front and he (Conklin) was able to put it in. Derrek Peck was stellar for us. He gave us a shot to win.”
Morris Knolls, which went scoreless on its three power play opportunities while Morristown went without an extra-man advantage of its own, has had difficulty scoring goals at times this season. But coach Tim Kepler will surely accept this victory.
“I told our guys in the locker room that there is no bad shot in overtime,” said Morris Knolls coach Tim Kepler. “We got one of those garbage goals, but it was the result of hard work by Sean Murray on the forecheck and being in position by Kyle Conklin. We stressed skating hard but keeping it simple. The overtime was about playing good defense first, trying to counter off that, and walking out to play again on Wednesday against Randolph.”
Written by Paul Bruno / @PaulBrunoHS
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