SOMERSET — Ridge has a real short memory. Fresh in their minds, its first state title in nine years last season still resonates with the Red Devils… so does last year’s overtime loss in the Skyland Cup.
“What we learned last year was don’t celebrate too much, too early,” Ridge coach Tim Mullin said with a laugh. “Don’t touch the money.”
After falling short to rival Hunterdon Central in sudden-death fashion at the 2017 cup final, top-seeded Ridge found redemption as Liam Tormey broke a scoreless tie 3:39 into the second period while Chris Ambrozy steered aside all 26 shots he faced as the Red Devils took the Skyland Cup back with a 3-0 triumph over second-seeded Pingry in the tournament finale at Protec Ponds in Somerset.
For Ridge, the defending NJSIAA Public A state champion, the triumph marked its third Skyland Cup and third in the last five years.
“It’s awesome — it feels great especially coming back from last year’s defeat,” Tormey, the team captain said. “We knew we were going to play a very good team in Pingry and had to play our best tonight.”
Ambrozy echoed his teammates’ sentiments, nearly word for word.
“It’s awesome. It’s great. We just didn’t want to lose,” Ambrozy, who registered his fourth shutout of the season, said. “We wanted to play as hard as we could and we did. We came in here and won. It’s just awesome.”
With leading scorer Alex Konovalov in the box for high-sticking and Ridge facing a crucial penalty kill early in the second period, a tough turnover on a perimeter pass at the blue line led the rush in the opposite direction and Tormey was there to get the scoring started.
“Connor Villa stepped up and intercepted the puck. He went down on a breakaway and took a hard shot. The goalie gave up a rebound and I was just there to put it home,” Tormey said of his fifth goal of the season at 11:21 of the middle frame. “Alex is one of our top scorers but our whole team contributes. We each have our role, we just have to do our part. Chris played great the whole game and kept us in it tonight.”
Ridge (15-4-7) continued to pepper Pingry goaltender Peter Papadapoulos (26 saves) but neither he nor Ambrozy would yield again keeping it a one-goal game until the waning moments of the second period.
“Prior to that goal it was pretty even,” Tormey added. “That goal just boosted our morale, then we knew we could beat this guy, we could win this game.”
As the final minute of the second period announcement rang over the loudspeakers at Protec Ponds, Konovalov found himself all alone with possession of the puck deep in the Pingry zone. With a swift wrap-around, the junior came out from behind the net and fired a pinpoint shot top corner, blocker-side with 58.4 seconds showing on the clock.
The goal, assisted by fellow junior Luke Rich, sent Ridge into the second intermission with a huge two-goal cushion while sending Pingry (14-4-1) into the locker room searching for answers.
“I don’t think they outplayed us. They just got a couple bounces their way,” Pingry senior captain George Enman said. “They finished the puck a couple more times than we did. I’m not disappointed with our team’s effort. It’s hockey. That’s how it goes sometimes.”
One of just four seniors on Big Blue, Enman and fellow seniors Austin Parsons, Sanford Ren and Colin McKinnon played valiantly keeping Pingry within striking distance down 2-0 until it pulled its goalie the final minute of regulation in an effort to pull out a comeback.
It was not to be, however, as Konovalov added his second of the game and team-leading 28th of the season with 7.9 ticks of the clock left.
After Ridge modestly celebrated the Skyland Cup on the ice, senior defenseman Wes Hobson was named Most Valuable Player.
“I was surprised. I didn’t think we could beat Pingry three times in a row,” Mullin, The Star-Ledger State Coach of the Year after leading the Red Devils to its first NJSIAA title in 2008, said. “It’s almost impossible to beat a really good team three times in a row. The senior line of Liam, Connor and Michael Meisenbacher they got our first goal and got us going. It’s a good sign when they contribute. They always play against the other team’s top group. If they can start getting it going, it’s a good sign for us.”
After the game, the Pingry coaching staff led by Scott Garrow had nothing but praise and high hopes for the future with 15 underclassmen on the roster.
“I saw two teams that were just working very, very hard. It just came down to one team,” long-time Delbarton and Pingry coach John Magadini said. “They’ve got a great team, there’s no question about that, and number 10 (Konovalov) is a real force. But I’m really proud of our guys. We have so many young guys and they played with maturity and played their positions well.”
When it was all said and done, Ambrozy steered all the attention toward the play of his defense in front of him, specifically Hobson, Meisenbacher, Matthew Fabiunke and Will Becker — all seniors.
“The defense was amazing. I saw every single shot that came to me,” Ambrozy said. “They helped me so much. I saw everything.
“It’s a good mental thing to have just knowing we can win,” the senior goalie added. “We’re just going to go out and play like we played this game every day.”
Written by John Christian Hageny / @JCCSPORTS
Special to HockeyClan
Main Image: Ridge celebrates its Skyland Cup on the ice at Protec Ponds in Somerset on Feb. 19, 2018. (Tom Smith TSPImages)
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