NEWARK — Finish! — a term that has been used all season by Northern Highlands’ head coach Jason Beswick was executed to perfection at Prudential Center in Newark on Monday night in the Public B State Championship game against Randolph.
Beswick has preached the importance of playing a full 45 minutes night-in and night-out each game this season, and with his team finally at 100 percent there was no stopping the Highlanders from reaching immortality.
Sophomore forward Cormac Cindrich put himself into the Northern Highlands history books when he struck for the game’s first and only goal at the 9:52 mark of the first period and goaltender John Werber stopped all 19 shots he faced to lead his second-seeded Allendale team to the 1-0 victory and coveted gold over the top-seeded Rams at “The Rock” in Newark.
“We had a strategy in place and we watched hours and hours of endless video and just talked about the importance of finishing and playing that complete game,” Beswick said. “Our coaching staff broke the videos down like no other coaching staff could do and that really helped the kids.
“The kid that scored the goal — Cormac Cindrich — gave us that early spark that we were looking for and that just carried us,” Beswick said. “The ultimate goal all season was to bring home gold. Last year we were upset in the first
round and that has been our motivation coming back. This is only our fourth game that we played at 100 percent health and it shows how scary we can be when we are at our fullest.”
Randolph (22-2-3) came into the final as an impenetrable force on defense and had not given up a goal in the first three rounds, out-scoring Newton, Morristown and Livingston by a combined score of 17-0.
On the contrary, Northern Highlands (22-5-1) was an offensive force, averaging five goals-per-game in the state tournament. But it was the Highlanders that were able to adapt and play into Randolph’s own game.
After Cindrich scored the early goal, it was the Highlanders’ defense and goaltending that stole the show.
Northern Highlands’ defense blocked 11 shots in the game and Werber was the backbone in net, posting his second shutout of the tournament.
“You can’t describe a feeling like this — it’s something you dream of as a little kid,” Werber said. “We’ve worked so hard for this all year and to finally be able to accomplish our goal is something so special.
“I believe in this team so much and when we scored that first goal that took so much pressure off of me in net,” Werber said. “We carried that momentum of Cormac’s goal and just never looked back. It’s so great to win that first title for this program and especially for Coach Beswick who has worked 15 years to get to this point. This is for him and for all the coaches.”
The Highlanders out-shot Randolph, 9-7, in the first period and came out strong again in the second looking for that all-important second goal, but could not crack through the pads of Rams’ goaltender Scott Kimiecik.
Kimiecik has been a brick wall in net for Randolph all season, posting 10 shutouts and a .956 save percentage and was strong once again with his team not allowing any margin of error.
Highlanders forward Jin Lee hit the post with 5:29 left in the second and that allowed Randolph to make a late push. Lee was the hero in the semifinals, posting a hat trick, and was second on Highlands with 15 goals this season.
The Rams came out firing in the third and out-shot the Highlanders, 12-7, over the final two periods, but Werber did not budge and Highlands was able to withstand the storm and bring the prize to Allendale.
“We had a full team game tonight and that is exactly what we needed to accomplish this dream tonight,” said Cindrich said. “We knew how good Randolph was defensively and we had to adapt to their style and that’s what we did.
“We played with confidence the whole game after scoring that first goal and we knew that John (Werber) would hold it up. He’s done it all season,” Cindrich said. “This is just an incredible night and an unforgettable moment for this program.”
For Randolph, it’s dream season fell short of the ultimate goal, but saw it pile up 22 wins, capture a league championship and Mennen Cup.
The Rams’ legendary head coach Rich McLaughlin captured his 400th career victory in December and Randolph outscored its opponents, 97-25, on the year.
“We worked so hard all year and the guys gave everything tonight and we fell just short,” Randolph captain Will Zimmer said. “It was one of those nights where we just couldn’t get one across; their goalie stood on his head. They put a good forecheck on us and that’s on us to adapt to it.
“In all our other games we scored first and it was different playing from behind tonight,” Zimmer said. “That’s not an excuse. I cannot say enough about every one of the guys on this team. They mean the world to me and all of the coaches are incredible. We have a lot to be proud of this season.”
Written by Chris Costa / @ChrisCostaHS
Special to HockeyClan
Main Image: Northern Highlands celebrates its first-ever NJSIAA ice hockey title on the ice at Prudential Center in Newark on March 5, 2018. The Allendale school edged Randolph, 1-0. (Tom Smith/TSPImages)
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