WEST ORANGE, NJ — It has been a hot topic, a hockey blister that has lingered a year for Randolph.
A 1-0 loss in last year’s NJSIAA Public B final to Northern Highlands at the Prudential Center in Newark has lingered ever since, seldom leaving the Rams’ thoughts.
“We’ve been thinking about it ever since March 4 last year,” said J.T. Zanagra. “On March 5, we started talking about it and we wanted to make sure we went hard and got back to the state championship and won it this time.”
Randolph took its final stride to erasing that bitter memory on Monday as Zangara finished with a goal and two assists, Nick Gallo contributed a goal and an assist and James Mattson, Evan Xhumba and Kyle Barbera also hit net to send top-seeded Randolph to a decisive 5-0 victory over fourth-seeded Middletown South in the semifinal round of the Public B tournament at at Codey Arena in West Orange.
Randolph (21-4-2) will look to capture its ninth state title when it plays Ridge or Westfield on Monday for the Public B championship at the Prudential Center.
The Rams, 14-3-1 in their last 18 matches, received a 15-save effort from Gavin Einfeldt in posting the shutout. Another Public championship would give Randolph six state titles since 2009. The Rams have won Public A crowns previously in 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2015.
It marked the first time Randolph and Middletown South had met since 2012 when Randolph took a 7-2 decision at Mennen Arena in the Public A semifinal. The Monmouth County school advanced to the Public B final in 2011 but dropped a 7-3 decision to Chatham — another Mennen Division club.
“We talk about that Northern Highlands loss every day,” said Randolph coach Rich McLaughlin. “That one still hurts. It still bothers us and it’s definitely driven us since that day. It’s pushed us. We’ve gone back to strong defensive play and we kind of got away from that a little earlier in the year. It’s all about run-and-gun these days. But we went back to our old ways. I don’t care what level you are if you play good defense and keep a team off the board you’re going to give yourselves a better chance to win.”
From the drop of the first puck it was the perfect scenario for Randolph — set the foundation with an early lead and build on that with a defensive shutdown.
Mattson and Xhumba both scored within a span of 1:25 of the first period and that proved enough for Randolph, which out-shot Middletown South (12-9-2) 14-4 in the first period and 37-15 overall.
“Our main thing on offense was to get rebounds and cause chaos in front,” said Mattson, a sophomore. “I found the puck in front and just jammed it home on the first goal. That was huge and our forecheck was huge. As long as we get on a team and keep pressuring down low not many teams can stop that. We trapped when we could but if the puck was available we went and got it. We’re not a team to sit back.
“Last year we know that feeling of losing in a final and we’re back with a vengeance. We’re not going to slack on any shift and we’re not going there to lose.”
Middletown South had an opportunity to change the momentum when it was awarded the game’s first power play, but the Eagles were unable to capitalize.
“We wanted to keep it close by the third period,” said Middletown South coach Tony Nemati. “We knew Randolph is a deep, battle-tested team. Maybe we’d get a break. We’re a young team and Randolph is a high-caliber team that plays that North Jersey, grind style. Their pressure was great and we had trouble keeping up with their intensity and forecheck. They executed extremely well that’s the reason they’re the number one seed.”
After a scoreless second period Randolph delivered three more goals to put the game out of reach.
Gallo, Zangara and Barbera all hit for even-strength goals, the final one coming at 10:23 when Barbera scored his 15th of the season. Zingara and Gallo picked up assists.
Anchored by Matthew Sislo, Mike Sofia and Austin Cross, the Randolph defensemen delivered a sparkling performance on the blue line.
“Our guys did really well today,” said Randolph assistant Kyle Krannich, a 2007 All-Stater from Randolph who runs the defensemen on the bench. “We wanted our defensemen to hold the blue line but don’t go crazy. Our defense played so well, probably their best game of the year. No complaints.”
Now, it’s on to another shot at the championship for Zangara and his teammates.
“We’re ready,” said Zangara, who has 38 points on 18 goals and 30 assists and registered his 100th career point in the 6-1 quarterfinal victory over Freehold Township. “We all slept on that loss all year. It was the worst feeling watching Northern Highlands throw their gloves up in the air last year. We don’t want that to happen again.”
Written by Paul Bruno / @PaulBrunoHS
Special to HockeyClan
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