RANDOLPH — This time, Randolph left no doubt on the ice.
Twenty-four days after the Rams absorbed a 2-1 defeat against Mennen Division rival Morristown – a loss that spoiled their chance at an unbeaten season – it was time to return the favor as the two teams faced-off in the NJSIAA Public B quarterfinals.
“That loss to Morristown was absolutely, one hundred percent on our minds,” Randolph senior forward Max Gaudioso said. “Did we want to avenge that loss? Definitely. We had a great game. This was Randolph hockey.”
Gaudioso and C.J. Mortello each connected in the first period, Will Zimmer scored in the second and Scott Kimiecik finished with 23 saves as top-seeded Randolph, No. 3 in the Hockey Night in Boston New Jersey Top 10, displayed a dominating effort in skating to a 3-0 triumph over ninth-seeded Morristown at Aspen Ice in Randolph.
Randolph, which improved to 21-1-3, advances into the state semifinal round to play the winner of Monday’s battle between fourth-seeded Livingston and fifth-seeded Middletown South.
The Rams, which were eliminated in last year’s Public A semifinal by eventual champion Ridge, are seeking their ninth overall state title since 2003.
Indeed, this was a classic Randolph effort, hard on the puck in the offensive zone with its overwhelming speed, cutting off passing and shooting lanes, and yielding few scoring chances in its own end.
And, as far as pregame pep talks were concerned, that proved unnecessary.
“We took the chalkboard away today,” Randolph coach Rich McLaughlin said. “We knew that there was plenty of motivation after Morristown had beaten us the last time. There wasn’t much too draw up as far as a game plan. We just told them that at this time of year it comes down to needing a big heart and desire.”
That was evident in the opening period as Randolph systematically killed off a Morristown power play just 2:04 into the game and then began to take control with an unrelenting and punishing forecheck.
It was Gaudioso who opened the scoring when he connected with 6:03 left after Randolph won an offensive zone draw to the right of Morristown goalie Derek Peck, who was superb in making 42 saves, for a 1-0 lead.
Randolph, which was defeated by Morristown, 2-0, two years ago in the Public A final, extended its lead to 2-0 before the first ended, capitalizing on a turnover just inside its own blue line. Adam Redgate controlled the puck and sprung Mortello, who displayed a nifty dangle before snapping in a shot from inside the right circle with 3:13 left.
That two-goal cushion proved enough.
“That second goal gave Randolph even more momentum,” Morristown coach Bobby Jones, whose club finishes at 12-12-3, said. “Being down 2-0 to Randolph is like being down 5-0 to most other teams. They surprised us in the first period. They were just all over us, especially in our end. They came at us from the opening faceoff and really pressured our defensemen every time they touched the puck.
“We lost puck battles and they took away our time and space,” Jones continued. “They didn’t allow us to generate anything. Derek Peck was phenomenal for us today. He was our player of the game.”
Randolph threw 34 shots on net while limiting Morristown to 10 through two periods before finishing with a 45-23 advantage overall.
It was trademark Randolph hockey – use speed and hustle to wear out the opponent in his own end, force mistakes and capitalize. Force the opponent to defend.
“They also forced so many face-offs in our end,” Jones added. “And when you are forced into defending that much, it’s hard to come back or mount any kind of offense at the other end. Randolph is very good at doing that to teams.”
Zimmer backhanded in a shot off a scramble in front with 8:55 remaining in the second period to make it 3-0. The goal, which came after another sequence when Randolph had controlled play below the dots and pinned it deep for nearly a minute of time, was set up by J.T. Zangara.
“We wanted this game badly,” Zimmer, a senior forward, said. “We had our forecheck going and our job was to grind to the net. The loss to Morristown gave us a lot of intensity. We got balance, too, because we got a goal each from all three of our lines.”
Randolph defensemen Ray McNamara, Austin Cross, Michael Sotia, Zach Vino and Owen Mueller were superb throughout, forcing much to the outside and getting sticks into the Morristown passing lanes often.
It was a game of familiarity as well as a combined 13 players in the contest are teammates on the New Jersey Freeze 18-UAA squad, which went 28-1 in the Tier II Midget short season and earned an invite to the National Tournament in November. All told, nine members of the Rams and four more on Morristown are on the Freeze. Both starting goaltenders, Kimiecik and Peck, are also on the team.
Randolph wound up winning two of the three meetings versus Morristown this winter, also winning the first game, 1-0, on Dec. 15.
“Their intensity from the start kind of surprised us,” Morristown senior center Nate DeFares said. “They came at us hard. We got that first power play early but didn’t capitalize on it and the mojo just wasn’t there for us today. Randolph is a great team, they’ve got a lot of depth and are so disciplined. They forecheck so hard and overwhelm you and force you into mistakes. When you play Randolph, you know they are coming to win.”
“They did a good job of taking us out of our game and they just forecheck so hard. We couldn’t get back,” DeFares added. “Derek Peck has been great all year and he doesn’t get the recognition he deserves.”
Written by Paul Bruno / @PaulBrunoHS
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