MORRIS TOWNSHIP — The way Mendham goalie Dylan Euvino was playing, there was no way West Morris wanted it to go to a shootout. So with just over a minute remaining in sudden-death overtime and the face-off deep in the Mendham zone, coach Phil Togno called timeout.
“I was a little nervous there,” Togno confessed. “With a minute to play in overtime, I didn’t want to face that goalie in a shootout so I called a little timeout to settle the boys down.”
With 1:09 on the clock and Euvino 44 saves to date, the ploy worked as junior Ryan Hall found the back of the net 13 seconds later as fifth-seeded West Morris fashioned a 4-3 come-from-behind victory in overtime over fourth-seeded Mendham in the first round of the 10th annual Halvorsen Cup at Mennen Arena in Morris Township.
The goal completed an improbable comeback from two goals down as West Morris erased a 3-1 deficit after two with a pair of goals from Jake Vail and Lance Krueger in the third to tie the game and force overtime.
Following 14:04 of sudden-death, end-to-end action in overtime, Hall was beside himself after ending the affair with 56.1 seconds left.
“We sent all the guys scrambling in there and there was the puck just laying there,” Hall said as he was swarmed by a rabid West Morris fanbase. “I had an open shot and took it… thankfully it went in.”
“Good things happen when you put the puck to the net. It went in and that was that,” Vail said with a smile. “We knew we could come back, we’ve done it before, we had to. It feels pretty good. Playoff game. For sure.”
Jarrett Ortiz gave West Morris a 1-0 lead with 47.1 seconds left in the first period. Mendham came back with a vengeance in the second stanza, however, and scored three goals to take a 3-1 lead after two. Max Scheidel and Tim Naval scored 1:40 apart to begin the frame and Jake Marszalek found the back of the net again with 25 seconds left during the three-goal outburst in the second period.
West Morris (7-13-2) could have mailed in its season right there but the Chester team had been down before. It trailed Mendham, 4-1, before storming back with four unanswered goals to pull out a 5-4 win on January 18.
“We just stayed calm. We didn’t want to get ahead of ourselves. We knew we could come back and we’ve done it before against them. We had to,” Vail said. “We knew we could do it. We kept everyone on the same level and grinded it out.”
After completing the comeback, Hall deflected any attention toward his teammates.
“I couldn’t have done it without them,” Hall said after netting his 14th goal of the season. “Kieran Gruby, Jarrett Ortiz, Jake Vail, Andrew McKernan, all the guys out there on the ice… I can’t thank Zach Mosser enough for putting up I don’t know how many saves, standing on his head the whole game… incredible. Incredible effort from everyone.”
Mosser finished with 16 saves while Euvino, who was the best player on the ice for either team, stood tall with a 44-save effort.
With the way Euvino was playing, Mendham was hoping to send the game to a shootout — and following 14 minutes of a scoreless overtime — was less than a minute away from doing so.
“We were all hoping for the shootout, expecting it to go to a shootout. Just win that last face-off and get it out,” Mendham senior Tim Naval said. “The bounces just didn’t go our way and the season ends in a blink just like that.”
“I think we battled hard, left it all out there on the ice,” Euvino said. “It’s been an honor to play for this program. The seniors really gave it all they got. Things happen, goals go in… I’m really proud of the guys even though we didn’t get the job done.”
Mendham’s season stands at 7-11-3. It will look to qualify for the NJSIAA tournament with an at-large bid.
In the end, the night belonged to West Morris and coach Phil Togno, in his first season with the team after a return to the bench following a lengthy run as coach at Jefferson where he was named State Coach of the Year in 2007.
“It’s just one of those games it’s fun to be a part of whether you’re coaching, whether you’re playing… real pleased… a real fun game to be a part of,” Togno said.
“Even though we were down 3-1, to me, we were dictating the play,” Togno added. “We basically had three breakdowns and they capitalized on each one but the boys stayed calm, believed in the system and stayed true to the team. We were fortunate to win it in overtime.”
West Morris will take on top-seeded Roxbury in the Halvorsen Cup semifinals slated for next week.
John Christian Hageny
Lead Writer — Hockey Clan
Buffalo Sabres Team Writer — The Hockey Writers