Morris Knolls Skates Past Jackson Liberty, 8-1, in Public A Semifinals

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MORRIS TOWNSHIP, NJ — So you’re saying there’s a chance.

Morris Knolls lost 14 seniors from last year’s state championship team, but those shoes have been filled, and now, the Golden Eagles are heading back to The Rock” with an eye on a repeat.

Jason Kwestel had a hat trick, Gehrig Eckoff scored twice and James Betz, Jake Quinn and Nick Torres also found the back of the net as top-seeded Morris Knolls-Hills, fashioned an 8-1 victory over fifth-seeded Jackson Liberty in the semifinals of the NJSIAA Public A tournament at Mennen Arena.

Morris Knolls’ James Betz celebrates scoring the opening goal during the NJSIAA State Tournament SemiFinal hockey game against Jackson Liberty at Mennen Arena in Morristown, NJ. 3/4/20 (Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)

For Kwestel, Eckoff and the rest of the holdovers from the 2019 championship team, there was only one possible outcome.

“We came out with a killer instinct,” said Kwestel, who scored twice — once shorthanded — in a span of 3:25 to establish a 4-0 lead after two. “We really wanted to come out and bring it hard and be physical. We just wanted to set the tone right off the bat.”

Betz gave Morris Knolls the lead it coveted and Eckhoff doubled it 3:37 into the second period to give the Golden Eagles a 2-0 lead.

“That meant a lot, because the past few games we’ve started out kind of slow,” Eckoff said. “So with that fast start it gave us the momentum and we just carried it over. We just took advantage.”

Kwestel made it 3-0 with an assist from J.D. Florio before Andrew Ryan was sent to the penalty box. With the man-advantage, Jackson Liberty was looking to creep back into it, but Kwestel’s second goal of the game while down a man all but ended any hope of a rally.

Morris Knolls’ goalie Eliot Marken stopping the shot during the Morris Knolls-Jackson Liberty NJSIAA State Tournament SemiFinal hockey game at Mennen Arena in Morristown, NJ. 3/4/20 (Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)

“We don’t want to stop after we get a lead,” Kwestel said. “We emphasized finishing our game and coming out hard all three periods.”

Eckoff delivered another blow just as he did in the second, this time cashing in 3:35 into the third to make it 5-0.

“We just want it,” Eckoff said. “Last year we had a great run — and this year we want it again. If we put in all the time and effort, hang with the boys and nobody else, we can do it — we’re a family.”

Brendan Macauley scored with nine minutes remaining to put Jackson Liberty on the board. Zach D’Andrea drew an assist to make it a 5-1 game.

“They put a lot of pressure on us. We weathered it, got one goal, had a little pushback, but couldn’t get another to back them off,” Jackson Liberty coach Dale Weise said. “(Morris Knolls) is a good team. They came out hard every shift. Have to give them credit.

Elliot Marken finished with 27 saves for Morris Knolls, which improves to 17-6-3. It awaits the winner of Montclair/Hunterdon Central.

Kyle Jones stood tall, giving the Lions a chance in between the pipes to finish with 30 saves.

Related: Fly Eagles Fly! Morris Knolls Bounce Back in 6-1 Win over Morristown-Beard

Jackson Liberty goalie Kyle Jones makes the pad save with traffic in front. Jones had 30 saves during the Morris Knolls-Jackson Liberty NJSIAA State Tournament SemiFinal hockey game at Mennen Arena in Morristown, NJ. 3/4/20 (Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)

“We started out as a team that joined with Point Pleasant Boro — no one thought anything about us — but we made it work and made it the furthest Liberty has ever gone in history, making it to the state semifinals,” Jackson Liberty’s Mike Behm said. “It’s a big deal. We came a long way from our first game. We joined together, made some chemistry and our way to the top.”

Morris Knolls coach Tim Kepler was thrilled with the offensive spark from the get-go.

“We were fighting slow starts the last week or two and we talked about getting off to a fast start in this game and really jump on them,” coach Bruce McCarter said. “We put the full attack on them. You saw it — pucks to the net — rebounds were popping out — we were on a mission and you saw the result.

“Really excited — really happy for the boys,” McCarter said. “Who would’ve thought at the beginning of the year with what we lost in senior depth, coming into this year with an unknown in net… But we’re here and it’s really an accomplishment.”

Related: Golden Eagles! Morris Knolls Captures 2019 NJSIAA Title

Morris Knolls’ Gehrig Eckoff taps in the puck to make it 5-0 — his second goal — during the Morris Knolls-Jackson Liberty NJSIAA State Tournament Semifinal hockey game at Mennen Arena in Morristown, NJ. 3/4/20 (Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)

One more step remains Kwestel said.

“It means everything for us,” Kwestel said. “We want to make history for Morris Knolls high school and hopefully go back-to-back. We’re going to do everything we can the next few days at practice to make sure that happens.”

Related: D’Andrea Scores 100th as Jackson Liberty Defeats Toms River North

Morris Knoll’s Kyle Thorton splits the defense and lets go the shot from the top of the circle during the Morris Knolls vs Jackson Liberty NJSIAA State Tournament Semi-Final Hockey Game at Mennen Arena in Morristown, NJ. 3/4/20 Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com

Scoring

1-0 MK James Betz (Jake DiLoreto) 8:10-1st

2-0 MK Gehrig Eckoff (Jason Kwestel, Andrew Ryan) 11:23-2nd

3-0 MK Jason Kwestel (J.D. Florio) 7:44-2nd

4-0 MK Jason Kwestel (Timmy Kepler) 3:19-2nd SHG

5-0 MK Gehrig Eckoff (Derek Coleman, Jason Moskowitz) 11:25-3rd PPG

5-1 JL Brendan Macauley (Jason Andreyev) 9:00-3rd PPG

6-1 MK Jake Quinn 5:14-3rd

7-1 MK Jason Kwestel 4:08-3rd SHG

8-1 MK Nick Torres (Jason Moskowitz, Gavin Walsh) 1:04-3rd PPG

Shots: Morris Knolls 38-28; Eliot Marken, MK, 27 saves; Kyle Jones, JL, 30 saves

 

 

Written by John Christian Hageny  @JCCSPORTS 

Special to HockeyClan

 

Photos by Tom Smith  @TSPImages / TSPSportsimages

 

Main Image: Morris Knolls Jason Kwestel scored on this shot to get a hat trick during the Morris Knolls vs Jackson Liberty NJSIAA State Tournament Semi-Final Hockey Game at Mennen Arena in Morristown, NJ. 3/4/20 Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com

 

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