Ridge Chops Ridgewood, 8-2, in NJSIAA Public B Quarterfinals

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SOMSERSET, NJ — Don’t knock it, don’t knock it. You’ve been here before.

With 408 wins and three state titles over the course of 26 seasons behind the bench, Ridge coach Tim Mullin knows a thing or two about playoff hockey — one of which is, “Never overlook your next opponent.”

“For us, it’s all about Ridgewood on Monday,” Mullin said Saturday night leading up to the NJSIAA Public B quarterfinals. “You can only really care about the team you’re playing next.”

Erik Helgeson scored 2:07 into the game — his first of two goals on the night — Reese Judson had a hat trick and Matt Balzarotti also scored twice as Ridge never lost sight of the team right in front of them as the third-seeded Red Devils skated past sixth-seeded Ridgewood, 8-2, in the quarterfinals of the Public B state tournament Monday afternoon at Protec Ponds in Somerset.

(Photo by Mark Carosiello/HockeyClan)

“It was awesome. Our game plan going into it was to get moving quickly,” said Helgeson. “We gave up two quick goals last time against this team, so we knew to beat them we had to get our legs going early and be faster than them. We got pucks deep and tried to get a few early goals — luckily they went in.”

Just 4:06 after Helgeson got the party started, Judson, a freshman, doubled it with an assist from Ty Ebeling. Judson would add another with 1:38 left to send Ridgewood reeling and Ridge into the first intermission with a 3-0 lead.

Ridgewood battled back in the second period and Jacob Kaliberda nearly beat Ridge goalie Marcus Fabiunke at the halfway point of the middle frame, but the Red Devils’ netminder denied the initial shot as well as the follow up rebounds from Davis Flusche and John Dunphey.

As play continued the other direction Helgeson delivered a dandy, stickhandling past two defenders before a right-to-left deke on Ridgewood goalie Johnny English to extend the Ridge lead to 4-0.

“It was just a pretty little play,” Helgeson said. “I turned around in the transition and caught the D a little flat-footed. It was a lucky move, doesn’t usually work but got blessed with it this time.”

(Photo by Mark Carosiello/HockeyClan)

Judson completed the hat trick — the first of his varsity career — just 1:17 later to make it 5-0 forcing Ridgewood called timeout with 5:11 to go in the second period.

“All year, we’ve fallen down early, we’ve gotten into bad spurts, but we’ve always bounced back,” Ridgewood’s Dunphey said. “Our heart still really showed we wanted to compete, but I think it got in our heads too much. We walked in here after a long trip and we weren’t physically there. Mentally, we were ready, but physically we were just out of it.”

In their previous meeting back on Jan. 5, Ridge erased deficits of 2-0 and 3-1 to pull out a dramatic 4-3 victory. But there would be no drama this time as the Red Devils executed clean breakouts while employing a strong forecheck with lengthy puck-possession in the offensive zone.

An unnecessary cross-checking call with minutes remaining in the second  period put Ridge on the power play for the first time in the game and Balzarotti cashed in to make it 6-0 at the end of two.

Ridge went back to work in the third and Balzarotti was once again on the receiving end of a Nick Del Gaizo pass to make it 7-0 just 3:37 in. Del Gaizo finished with four assists in the game.

“Everyone is playing together for the team, for the seniors,” Balzarotti said. “Everyone is working hard in the corners, winning all the battles — this is just a great team to watch right now.”

Related: Ridge Rules! Red Devils Capture 2019 NJSIAA Public B State Title

Reese Judson had a hat trick and Erik Helgeson and Matt Balzarotti each scored twice to propel Ridge to an 8-2 victory over Ridgewood in the NJSIAA Public B quarterfinals at Protec Ponds in Somerset. 3/2/2020 (Photo by Mark Carosiello/HockeyClan)

Ridgewood finally got on the board with 9:29 remaining when Dunphey beat Fabiunke from in close with an assist from Tyler Kopff. The Maroons would add another when Danny Bergman scored with 1:09 to go.

“Little solace. It’s tough. They played great,” Ridgwood coach Michael Lucchesi said. “They were all over us early and we had trouble keeping up with them. They played fast, moved the puck really well and were more physical. That gave them the edge. Have to give them a ton of credit because that was as good as they’ve played and it altered the way we played. Hats off to them. They played championship-level hockey today and we didn’t.

Ridgewood finishes a promising season 12-10.

“We had a good run. We competed, we stepped our game up and improved,” Lucchesi said. “We lose three seniors so we have a lot of the core coming back. I think there is a lot to build on and I think this will be a great motivator this off-season.”

Related: Ridgewood Rolls Tenafly Behind Bergman, Loughlin, Canone

(Photo by Mark Carosiello/HockeyClan)

With 13 goals and 33 points this season, Judson has been a welcome addition to the offense.

“It feels great. Seeing all the fans here. I just knew I had to keep going out there and keep working hard,” Judson said after his first-career hat trick. “Playing with Ty Ebeling (three assists), he’s such a great player. He’s so easy to play with, he gets the puck to you every time — makes it easy to score.”

Mullin was beside himself after the offensive onslaught.

“That start changed the game — all of a sudden it was 3-0 — wasn’t expecting that,” said Mullin. “It should have been 3-2, but Fabiunke made two great saves on a flurry, including a stop on #22 on a breakaway.

“I don’t know what to make of it. Ridgewood is a very good team,” Mullin said. “I did not expect this to happen at all — a big surprise. It was fun. It’s great to win. We just got the jump on ’em early. I’ve never seen us play like that this year, hopefully we keep it up.”

Related: 2020 NJSIAA State Quarterfinals on Tap — Previewing the Field

(Photo by Mark Carosiello/HockeyClan)

Ridge (18-5-5) will take on second-seeded Westfield, which needed overtime to get past West Essex, 3-2, in the other half of the quarterfinal bracket. The Public B semifinal bout is set for Wednesday at Codey Arena in West Orange.

“We’re not really sure who it’s going to be but we know we can beat any team we face in the future,” Helgeson said. “Hopefully, we get a similar start in the next two games and see what happens.”


1-0 R Erik Helgeson (Eric Schubert, Nick Del Gaizo) 12:53-1st

2-0 R Reese Judson (Tyler Ebeling) 8:47-1st.

3-0 R Reese Judson (Tyler Ebeling, Colin Kirkwood) 1:38-1st

4-0 R Erik Helgeson (Matt Balzarotti, Nick Del Gaizo) 6:28-2nd

5-0 R Reese Judson (Tyler Ebeling) 5:11-2nd

6-0 R Matt Balzarotti (Nick Del Gaizo) 2:08-2nd PPG

7-0 R Matt Balzarotti (Nick Del Gaizo) 11:23-3rd

7-1 RW John Dunphey (Tyler Kopff) 9:29-3rd

8-1 R Grant Loges (unassisted) 2:44-3rd

8-2 RW Danny Bergman (Carson Kopff) 1:09-3rd

Shots: 23-22 Ridgewood; Marcus Fabiunke, Ridge, 21 saves; Johnny English, Ridgewood, 15 saves



Written by John Christian Hageny  @JCCSPORTS 

Special to HockeyClan


Photos by Mark Carosiello / @SnapthePicture6



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