WEST ORANGE — The Ridge Red Devils had not reached the NJSIAA Public A state finals since 2009 and knew it had an uphill battle to climb against a dynasty in the likes of the Randolph Rams.
Randolph has won the state tournament eight times since 2003, including four times in the last six years, but it was Ridge that looked like the team of destiny after a come-from-behind victory over River Dell in the quarterfinals a few days earlier.
Ridge used that momentum to its advantage as Will Allen struck a shot past the Randolph goaltender 4:32 into the opening frame and the second-seeded Red Devils never looked back in a 4-2 victory over the third-seeded Rams in the semifinals of the NJSIAA/New Jersey Devils Public A State Tournament at Codey Arena in West Orange.
“This is so exciting. We have been working so hard since day one of practice this year to get to this point and we achieved our dream,” Allen, a senior, said. “We’ve reached the semifinals a few times before but always fell a little short so this was huge for our program today.”
“That was huge scoring first and getting off to a quick start in the first period,” Allen said, “They battled tough all game so we just used that strong start in the first period to our advantage and were able to hold them off in the end.”
Ridge dominated the pace of play in the first period, but it was Randolph that held a 9-7 advantage in shots.
It was the early play in between the pipes from Ridge netminder Chris Ambrozy that keep the game scoreless and allowed the Red Devils’ offense to get back on the attack.
With 4:49 left in the first, senior captain John Vilade took a pass from Alex Konovalov in front of the net from the corner and buried it into the net for what seemed at the time, a commanding 2-0 lead.
“We just needed to play our game,” Vilade said. “We know what Randolph has done in the state tournament over the years and didn’t want to let that rattle us. We wanted to get the puck in deep and forecheck hard and that opened a lot of things up for us.”
Ridge keep the uptempo pace going into the second and with 10:49 left fellow senior Jack Mandala increased his team’s lead to 3-0 on his 21st goal of the season.
Randolph, meanwhile, could not figure out a way to beat Ambrozy as the junior keeper stopped 25 shots in the game, including eight in the second period, before the Rams were finally able to find a hole to open the third.
Jack Zimmer struck for two goals in the final frame, including his power-play goal 5:01 in, but each time the Rams were able to cut into the deficit, Ridge had an answer.
Zimmer’s first goal cut Ridge’s lead to 3-1 but just 1:58 later Vilade scored his second goal of the game on the power-play to clinch the victory and seal the Red Devils’ first trip to the state finals since a 1-0 setback to the very same Randolph team in 2009.
Ridge is seeking its second state title in school history. It defeated Watchung Hills, 5-0, in 2008.
“Coach told us going into the third period to just keep doing what we were doing and stick to our game because it was working,” Allen added. “I don’t think our game plan is going to change that much going into the finals. We need to keep playing hard, establish a forecheck and we know we will have a shot.”
Ridge will look to capture its second state title in program history when it takes on 13th-seeded Watchung Hills on March 5th at 6:30 p.m. at the Mennen Arena in Morris Township.
Written by Chris Costa/HockeyClan