WEST ORANGE, NJ — The West Essex ice hockey team struggled in the semifinals of the Kelly Cup Tournament on Monday evening at Codey Arena in West Orange as Cranford ousted the squad, 4-1, from the tournament.

“[Cranford] executed their game plan perfectly, they shut us down offensively, frustrated us, got in our head and we were off our game,” said Knights head coach Marc Gregory. “It’s hard to beat a team twice in one week.”

The Cougars drew first blood in the first period, capitalizing on a power play. The goal from Luke Pachowski set the tone for the evening and was the first of two special teams goals for Cranford.

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The Knights showed their resiliency in the second period, tying the game at one. Connor McCarthy’s goal with 9:21 remaining in the period was his seventh point in three games against Cranford.

The game’s decisive play came a few short minutes later, however, when a mental mistake by the Knights’ defense resulted in a breakaway for Matt Womelsdorf. He ultimately buried one in the net for a 2-1 Cougar lead with 5:58 left in the second.

West Essex had opportunities to score in the third with two powerplay chances. A post shot rung out through the arena early in the third, which was a split-second “no goal” decision from the referee that could have drastically altered the outcome of the game. Ultimately, 11 more shots were turned aside as Cranford proceeded onward to victory.

The loss drops the Knights to 14-6-3 on the season and marks the first time all season that West Essex has lost two consecutive games.

“We go from here, we pick up the pieces and we try to make a state run,” said Gregory. “You hope that they learn they have to remain persistent, and you can’t allow things that you can’t control take over the game.”

The Knights will have their first true taste of adversity with the state tournament coming up and a challenge to continue playing solid hockey in the peak of the season. As they prepare for the state seeding, to be announced in the coming days, the Knights will look to regain their composure from a stifling game.