RANDOLPH, NJ - They are back where they belong. Last season, for the first time since 2009, the Randolph Rams hockey team did not play in the NJSIAA “Public A” state finals.
Ever since that final horn sounded in their 1-0 defeat to eventual champion Morris Knolls in the 2014 state playoff semifinals, the Rams players have focused on getting to the “Rock” in March 2015.
Senior Captain Mike Slavin explained, “This season, our work ethic has been a lot better than the past couple years. We have been really pushing each other in practice to get better because we knew that was what it would take to get back to the finals.”
At the Prudential Center on Monday Mar. 9 at 7 p.m., the Rams will face high-flying Howell, winners of the Shore Conference with a 22-5 record.
On earning themselves a spot in the game, Slavin said, “It feels great to be back in the finals. Last year was the first time we didn’t make it to the Rock in my career at Randolph, and it was tough to swallow. The feeling after that game was indescribable."
Junior Chris Holowko agreed, adding, “After last years’ loss, getting to the finals, back where we belong, feels pretty good. But redemption has not been achieved yet.”
Howell boasts a high powered offense, with their top four scorers having tallied 116 goals between them. The Rams know they must be on top of their game to slow the Rebels down. The Rams Defensemen Bryan Early, Jack Zimmer, Alex Kranis, Quinn Rogers, and Tom Weber, will look to block shots and force pucks wide to the boards.
Goalie Garret Stenberg, with 8 shutouts this season, will backstop the defense.
Senior Tyler Jones, who scored the game winner in the semifinals, was asked what the team needs to do in order to try and contain Howell. Jones said, “We need to play the solid defense we have all year, and win our one-on-one battles.
The Rams, whose record now stands at 18-5-3 on the season, will look to their traditional game plan of a strong forecheck, combined with gritty, physical hockey to carry them to victory.
The Rams will look to power forwards Matt Bruno, Dan Janson, and Holowko to set the physical tempo, allowing the speedy Slavin, Ken O’Brien, and Sean Jones to collect loose pucks.
Holowko stated, “The key to victory for us will be to play traditional hard working physical Randolph hockey. Holowko also said the Rams need to, “Play defense first and eventually the goals will come.” He expects a good battle, explaining, “I believe it's going to be a long hard fought game.”
Last year, the two teams met in the State quarterfinal round, with Randolph taking a 2-0 victory. But that was a year ago, and these are two different teams. Both have improved records this season, and both took the next step to reach the finals.
When asked about his opponent, Slavin said, “Howell is a very good team. They’ve got a few really skilled guys that can fly out there, so it's going to be a hard fought game. Still, our main focus is to play our game from start to finish.”
Slavin concluded with, “It’s really nice to know that our hard work this season paid off. But the ultimate goal is to win. So it's nice to be back (in the Finals) but we are not satisfied yet.