UNION — Jay Horan has been the reliable, shutdown defenseman for Morristown all winter, but the senior showed he can deliver at the other end off the ice when the opportunity appears.
Horan scored twice in the third period, including the game-winning goal, and picked up an assist and Derek Peck turned aside 33 shots to help ninth-seeded Morristown rally for a 3-2 victory over eighth-seeded Westfield in the NJSIAA Public B Tournament Round of 16 at Union Sports Arena.
Morristown (11-11-3), which received an at-large bid to enter the tournament, advances into the quarterfinal round to play either top-seeded Randolph, No. 3 in The Hockey Night in Boston New Jersey Top 10, and the winner of 16-Tenafly/Cresskill and 17-Newton/Lenape Valley.
The Colonials had defeated Westfield the last time the two met, skating to a 4-1 decision in the Public A Round of 16 two years ago on its way to the state championship.
Horan, who had just four goals this season entering the contest, took a cross-ice pass from Connor Critchley near the left point, saw some open ice, and darted in before unleashing a rising shot for a glove-side goal with 5:17 remaining in the third period to snap a 2-2 tie.
“We were bound to get one,” said Horan. “We were down (2-1) going into the third but the seniors really led us in that third. Spencer Levite was screening their goalie and I was able to get it through. It was a great effort by the boys.”
Morristown, which also won the Public B title in 2014 before being eliminated in the Round of 16 last year, improved to 5-2-1 in its last eight games. Westfield, which outshot Morristown 35-27, finishes with a 12-8-2 record that includes the Union County Cup. The Blue Devils advanced to the Public A semifinal round in 2011 and 2014.
Westfield held a 2-1 advantage entering the final period and also had over a minute of power play time to start the final stanza, looking extend its lead. But that crucial goal didn’t come.
Morristown killed off the remaining time before swinging the momentum its way as Horan gathered a pass from Riley Keller and ripped a shot past C.J. Duffy (24 saves) for a power play goal 3:07 into the third to square it at 2-2.
“Killing that penalty to start the third was the turning point,” said Morristown coach Bobby Jones. “If Westfield scores and goes up 3-1, we’re in trouble. But we held it and then scored right after that on Jay’s power play goal. He’s had a more defensive role this year and he’s our top defenseman, but he really came up huge with those two goals at the best time possible and the best way possible.”
Westfield, which defeated No. 4 Summit, 3-2, to claim the Union County Cup championship on Jan. 20, pulled Duffy with 1:12 on the clock and finally forced a faceoff to the left of Peck with 17 seconds showing, but was unable to send the game to overtime.
“I was pretty relaxed in the third period,” said Peck, who stopped all seven shots he faced in the final period. “We weren’t down at all and were confident going into the third. Westfield really came out hard and had a lot of speed, especially in the first period, but we got the big goals from Jay (Horan) in the third. It was a great win for us and we get to move on and play again.”
Despite the loss, Westfield executed in all three zones to near perfection throughout most of the first two periods.
Trevor Tanella gave Westfield a 1-0 lead with a power-play blast through traffic as Kenny Meyer assisted with 2:21 left in the opening period. The Blue Devils extended their advantage to 2-0 at 3:25 of the second after Matt Rittendale, who rang a shot off the crossbar in the first, outraced an opposing defenseman and wired a shot to the glove side.
Morristown cut the deficit to 2-1 before the second ended when Spencer Levite ripped a shot from between the circles for a power play goal. The Colonials went 2-for-2 in the contest with the extra-man.
Still, after 30 minutes of hockey Westfield held a 27-20 shot advantage and had used its speed to close down much of the middle of the ice between the blue lines. Westfield roared into the Morristown end often on the forecheck, sending two men deep and cutting off the reverse passes.
“We came out well,” said Westfield coach Joe Bertucci. “We used our speed and we were physical. We were in good shape after the two periods and we had that 1:30 to start the third on the power play. If we go up 3-1 there it would have been tough on Morristown. But we didn’t, and they came back and scored to tie it up. That was the story of the game right there. It was a momentum killer.
“We got pucks to the net a lot in the first and second and had the 2-0 lead. We executed well. We have a lot of seniors, so this was tough. This was a special group for us.”
Morristown senior forward Nate DeFares, who like Horan and Drew Shandlay, skated on Morristown’s 2016 Public B championship club as sophomores, never doubted his team’s resolve.
“Westfield really came at us in the first period,” DeFares said. “I think their speed caught us off guard a bit for a while, but we were able to settle in and we felt good going into the third. And Jay Horan’s two goals were huge. He’s such a solid defenseman and he doesn’t score much, but he won it today for us.
“We saw what it takes to win a championship when we were sophomores and we want this playoff run to keep going.”
Written by Paul Bruno / @PaulBrunoHS
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