Yesterday marked the biggest day on the calendar for NJ high school ice hockey; the state championships at the home of the NJ Devils, the Prudential Center. This years matchups saw one team making it’s state finals debut while the other seven of the teams have all been to the state finals at least twice each, including two rematches of last years games in the Public C and Non-Public brackets. Overall 5 of the 8 teams were in championship games last year as well.
#1 Don Bosco (3) vs. #2 Delbarton (1)
Don Bosco finally slayed it’s dragon. After 54 years of competing in varsity ice hockey in the state of New Jersey, the top-seeded Don Bosco Ironmen can finally call themselves state champions. This was the third year in a row that Don Bosco and Delbarton faced each other in the state finals at the Prudential Center and fourth time over all, with Delbarton winning the first three meetings. Delbarton was also on a three-year state championship-winning streak coming into the game. Even though Don Bosco had won the previous three matchups this season, including the Gordon Cup Title game, they knew not to overlook Delbarton.
Coach Toskos’ Ironmen came out with a specific game plan in mind, to keep the Delbarton offense in check, that game plan worked as the Green Wave were limited to only 3 shots in the first period. Halfway through the first period Don Bosco finally broke through to take a 1-0 on Liam McKlinskey’s first goal of the night.
Delbarton came out much more determined in the second period, but Don Bosco’s goaltender Max Schwarz was up to the challenge. Finally towards the end of the period, Delbarton’s leading scorer, Mike Balzarotti scored on a one-timer on a nice set up from James Falivene. It appeared as though this game was going to go the route of the past two years championship games. It was not to be however, as just 9 seconds later, McKlinskey scored his second of the game which would prove to be the state championship game winning goal.
The teams traded few chances in the third period but both goaltenders would up to the task to keep the game close. Overall Cleaves made 24 saves for Delbarton and Schwarz made 19 saves for Don Bosco. As time was winding down, Delbarton pulled net-minder Brett Cleaves for an extra attacker. It wasn’t to be, as Tyler Sedlak sealed the deal with an empty net goal, setting the Ironmen faithful into frenzy. Congratulations to the Don Bosco Ironmen on their first ever state championship!
#1 Hillsborough (1) vs. #2 Morris Knolls (6)
This years Public A tournament field was a two headed monster right from the beginning. The top-seeded Hillsborough Raiders and second seeded Morris Knolls Golden Eagles ran the table en route to their clash in the championship game. Morris Knolls was looking for it’s third state title, as Hillsborough was looking for it’s first.
The talk of the state and the tournament was about Hillsborough high-powered offense, which put up 165 goals through its first 28 games. They also boasted the states leading goal scorer in Jude Kurtas (56 goals). Morris Knolls boasted their own star in senior goaltender Ty Franchi. Ty is a AAA goal tender that when on his game is one of the best in the state.
Morris Knolls came out hard, perhaps a little too hard, as Sean Murray took two penalties in the opening five minutes of the game, giving Hillsborough’s high-octane offense a chance to strike early. The Golden Eagles penalty kill came up huge, only allowing one shot on goal during the two power plays. Sean Murray had four minutes to think about what kind of game he wanted to have, one where he parades to the penalty box, or one where he builds on the momentum of the penalty kill and uses it to turn the game around. He chose the latter.
Sean scored two quick goals, both assisted by Jacob Walsh, to put Knolls up 2-0 in the first period and they never looked back. The second period was a lot like the first; Knolls scored two more goals, from Gehrig Eckoff and Jason Kwestel. The Raiders thought they found some life as Kurtas took a nice pass on a 2-1 from Jason Wolff and put the puck past Franchi to make the score 4-1. That was as close as the Raiders would come as in the third period, Sean Murray would score two more goals to ice the game for the Golden Eagles and bring them their 3rd state championship in the programs history. Franchi would finish with 30 saves for Morris Knolls and Jason LoRicco would finish with 32 saves for Hillsborough.
#1 Randolph (1) vs. # Ridge (4)
Two of the best public school teams in the state, year in and year out, this game had the making to be the best of the night. Ridge was looking for it’s 2nd state title in the last 3 years and third overall, while Randolph was looking for their 9th state championship. The last time these two teams met in the state tournament was in 2017 in the Public A Semi-finals, which saw Ridge win by a score of 4-2 en route to their 2nd state championship.
Randolph came out guns blazing into this game. Their star JT Zangara scored just over 3 minutes into the game. When Randolph scores first they are very difficult to beat. The Randolph Rams love to play low scoring 1-0, 2-1 type games. This game seemed to have all the makings of one of those types of games, until Ridge’s Blake Loges knotted the score at 1 near the end of the first period.
The second period saw both teams trade chances, with Randolph dominating play for a better part of the period. Both goal tenders were up for the challenge as Randolph’s Gavin Einfeldt and Ridge’s Marcus Fabiunke made save after save. The score was still 1-1 at the end of the second.
The third period saw the skill players of Ridge start to pull ahead of the systematic Randolph defense. One of the most dynamic forwards in the state, Ridge’s Alex Konovalov scored to put Ridge up 2-1. Luke Rich then added two insurance goals to ice the victory for the Ridge Devils. Einfeldt finished with 16 saves and Fariunke finished the game with 25 saves.
#4 Summit (6) vs. #6 Chatham (2)
The Public C bracket was by far the deepest and arguably the most talented bracket of all of the public school brackets. This was the only bracket where a #1 and #2 seed didn’t make the finals. It also happened to be a rematch of last year’s Public C state title game where Summit bested Chatham 3-0, while being out shot 32-8. Chatham knew coming into the game that they would have to come out with a game plan to keep Summit’s high-powered offense at bay.
The game could not have started out better for the Chatham Cougars, as they struck first with Jack Deletto converting on a Matt Keane pass to make it 1-0. Chatham then got a powerplay and had a bunch of chances but Summit’s goaltender; Nikita Pryymak was up to the task. Late in the first period Summit’s super sophomore Greg Spitznagel scored twice in three minutes to give the Hilltopper’s the lead that they would never relinquish.
In the second period Chatham came out firing, but couldn’t get anything to drop past Pryymak. Nikita’s brother Tom would score to make the game 3-0, followed by two more goals by Charlie Collins and Remi Vidal to make the score 5-1 at the end of the second period. Chatham would not go away quietly as Michael Sciaretta would score to make the score 5-2 and give Chatham a glimmer of hope. About three minutes later, Chris Magovern would give Summit a 6-2 lead and put the icing on the cake for the Hilltoppers, giving them back-to-back state championships. Zachary Pendergrast would finish with 18 saves for Chatham and Pryymak would finish with 38 saves for Summit.
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