MORRIS TOWNSHIP — It may only be the first week of action, but Randolph and Chatham are already in mid-season form.
Twice Randolph took the lead and twice Chatham stormed back to tie it before taking its first lead of the game late in the second period. The wild, back-and-forth action only set the stage for another textbook Randolph comeback, however, as the eight-time NJSIAA champions rallied for three goals in the third and final frame en route to a dramatic, 5-3, come-from-behind victory over Chatham at Mennen Arena in Morris Township.
Brian Nall gave Chatham the lead it coveted with 4:24 remaining in the second period, but Randolph erased the 3-2 deficit on goals from Owen Mueller, Evan Xhumba and Nick Gallo in the third and final frame to pull out the victory.
“The message coach gave us in between periods was, ‘Wake up! Go hard and have fun,'” Gallo, who scored twice including his second of the game with 2:11 remaining to ice it, said. “We just went out in the third and played hockey. We just woke up, gave it everything we had and went balls to the walls.”
“We were asleep. We weren’t playing our game and we needed a wake-up call,” Xhumba, who provided the game-winning goal with 8:24 remaining — just 35 seconds after Mueller tied it — to seal the win. “We knew we could take ’em. There wasn’t much to say. We just had to look within ourselves.”
The comeback in the third wasn’t exactly the gamescript Randolph coach Rich McLaughlin had intended but knew his team was capable of overcoming the deficit.
“They were fast and when they want to go — they go — and we let ’em go,” McLaughlin said of the speedy Chatham offensive attack. “They’ve got some talented kids who were beating us to the puck the first two periods, but we hung in, played some defense and got lucky in the end.”
Chatham was without senior goalie Zachary Pendergrast and coach Brendon Herr, who was away from the team due to a personal matter, but never stopped battling, erasing 1-0 and 2-1 deficits on goals from Michael Sciaretta and Quinn Kelly.
With Sciaretta in the penalty box for goaltender interference late in the second period, the Cougars executed a stellar penalty kill before a fine breakout of its own zone just as Sciaretta’s time expired. Streaking out of the sin bin, Sciaretta caught Randolph flat-footed on a 2-on-1 break before the senior forward issued a deft pass through the defender to Nall who made no mistake giving Chatham its first lead of the game, 3-2, with 4:24 remaining in the second period.
“We played a really strong game,” Sciaretta, who finished with a goal and an assist, said. “That 40-second lapse when we got scored against twice needs to be corrected.
“It just comes down to the chemistry this team has,” Sciaretta said of the team’s multiple comebacks in the game. “Some of us have been playing together for years. We know where each other is going to be on the ice and we don’t have any quit in this team. We’ve got Morristown-Beard on Wednesday — hopefully we can bring some of the same energy.”
Randolph wasted little time — 40 seconds to be exact — to break the ice in the game when J.T. Zangara broke in and put the Rams on the board with an assist from Gallo the first minute of action.
The goal stood until the waning moments of the opening frame when Sciaretta rang one off the post with 13.5 seconds left to tie it up for Chatham and send both teams into the first intermission deadlocked at 1-1.
Randolph (2-0) took its second lead of the game 4:56 into the second period when Gallo found himself on the finishing end after setting up the Rams’ first marker, completing the play started by Kyle Barbera. The lead was short-lived, however, as Chatham once again struck back just 19 seconds off the ensuing faceoff as Kelly finished Matt Keane’s pass at 9:45 to tie it back up at 2-2.
The pair of bang-bang goals 20 seconds apart opened up the game, offensively, as both teams took turns taking runs at each other in the corners, finding themselves up or down a man as Randolph and Chatham exchanged power plays.
With nothing doing thanks to the play of Randolph goalie Gavin Einfeldt (20 saves) and his counterpart at the other end of the ice, Sam Rowland of Chatham (26 saves), both teams were held off the board despite the man-advantage.
“It was all about seeing the puck and my defense did a great job of letting me see the shots — it gave our team a chance,” Einfeldt said. “A win here is absolutely huge. The Mennen Division is probably the top public conference in the state so to go 2-0 to start the season is absolutely a great start.”
Carrying a 3-2 lead into the third period, Chatham very nearly made it 4-2 when Danny Mahoney’s shot from the point was deflected in front by Declan Curry off the inside of the goal post and back out.
“We had ’em after the second,” Chatham assistant coach Bob Ritchie said. “Young kids… their third goal we got caught and he just wired a shot to tie it. You’ve got to learn and you’d much rather have it happen now than in February and that’s what I tried to reiterate to the kids, ‘Hey guys, we’re learning right now.’ We have a bunch of new guys on the team. We don’t have two great scorers anymore. The season isn’t over by any stretch. We are 0-2, but if we finish 10-8 and beat these guys again in the semifinals of the Mennen Cup it’s all good. We just want to be peaking at the right time.”
Randolph fell 1-0 to Northern Highlands in the final of the NJSIAA Public B state championship last year, something junior J.T. Zangara is looking to remedy this season.
“There’s a big difference from starting the season 2-0 versus 1-1,” Zangara said. “We wanted to come back in the third and knew we needed to play the full 15 minutes. We put one in then another and kept rolling from there. Going to the net — that’s our game — putting in the rebounds. If we can do that and drive the net we’ll provide the offense.”
Written by John Christian Hageny / @JCCSPORTS
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