MORRIS TOWNSHIP — At this point in the season, Randolph coach Rich McLaughlin knows exactly what his team is — and what it isn’t.
“We don’t run-and-gun. We can’t,” McLaughlin, in his 25th season behind the bench, said. “Other teams have some guys that can move the puck. We don’t. We can’t run-and-gun so we have to latch down. We just have some tough kids that can hammer.”
Despite being out-shot 21-13 and being on the receiving end of some pretty big hits, Randolph stuck to its system and dished out its own form of punishment in the form of Will Zimmer who scored twice in the first period, each assisted by J.T. Zangara, before Nick Civetta added an insurance goal into an empty net with 11 seconds remaining as the Rams, No. 1 in The HockeyAdvantage Public Schools Top 10, defeated No. 4 Chatham, 3-0, at Mennen Arena in Morris Township.
With the victory, Randolph improves to 14-0-3, 6-0-2 in the Mennen Division, and remains undefeated. Much of that success is due to goalie Scott Kimiecik, who stood tall turning aside every puck he faced. The senior was stellar if not spectacular halting nine shots which came during a crucial, 5-on-3 Chatham power play flurry late in the third, to record his fifth shutout of the season.
“We just have to place our shots,” Zangara said. “Having a strong fore-check, going to the net, we know we can bury it. We also know we have Scott back there and know he can make the saves. We block shots. We play defense. That’s how we get it done.”
Zimmer got Randolph on the board first when Zangara, camped out behind the net, fed him in front 12:29 into the game. Chatham hung in there but a turnover at center ice allowed Zangara to send a pass to a sweeping Zimmer who crossed the blue line before snapping a twisted wrister past goalie Zachary Pendergrast with 4.4 seconds left in the first.
The goal, Randolph’s eighth shot in the waning seconds of the opening frame, sent the eight-time NJSIAA state champions into the first intermission with a 2-0 lead.
“Just my linemate making a great play,” Zimmer said of his first goal of the game. “I went to the front and as soon as it hit my tape I fired it in.”
Just 2:27 later, Zangara and Zimmer hooked up again.
“Another hard fore-check, a loose puck right off a line change, J.T. hit me in stride, right on the tape, came into the slot, had a wide open lane right to the net, saw an opening top-left and fired it right there,” Zimmer described his second goal of the game and team-leading 14th of the season. “We just have to keep going. We can’t play down to another team’s level. We have to play our game especially come playoff time.”
Chatham (12-4) came out with an ax to grind in the second period and when it wasn’t in the penalty box, it was crashing down hard on Kimiecik, knocking the keeper’s mask completely off in a scrum in the crease late in the frame.
Chatham out-shot Randolph 5-1 in the second period, keeping the Rams to a single shot which came in the final moments of the period, but ultimately could not crack Kimiecik.
“We just didn’t have a good first period. We can’t have a mental lapse in the first period against this team,” Chatham senior Thomas Winter said. “We had that 5-on-3 at the end, we hit the post. We get a goal there it changes the game, but we have to do something before that. We waited too long.”
“It’s tough,” Chatham captain Tanner Acone said. “We’re faster than them. We knew we can win that game. Those two goals in the first, two totally correctable plays. Mental lapses in the D zone. We started to pick it up in the third. We get a goal there, it’s a different game. We played to their style of game. We need to be more physical.”
After the tilt, McLaughlin, who celebrated the 400th win of his career on December 23, deflected any attention away from talk of an undefeated season.
“In the driver’s seat? No, we still have to win a couple of big games here including Morristown which always gives us a fit,” McLaughlin said. “It doesn’t hurt but I told the guys before the game, ‘We have three games ahead of us. If you want first place, if you want the number one seed, it’s all ahead of us to finish it off. No one else is going to do it for us.’ We have our own way about it, we just have to take one game at a time.”
The loss snaps an impressive six-game winning streak for Chatham, which will take its lumps and look to get back on track against Morris Knolls on Jan. 30.
“They’re a well-coached, structured, probably the most structured team in the Mennen that we face and they play three periods of hard hockey. If you’re not going to compete for three periods against them, you’re not going to be successful,” Chatham coach Brendon Herr said. “We competed for two periods and didn’t catch a break. The post we hit on the 5-on-3 was unfortunate. We need to start moving bodies around a little but more. The power play has been good for the most part. We’re getting looks, we’re getting shots. It’s just a matter of executing.”
Written by John Christian Hageny / @JCCSPORTS
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