RANDOLPH, NJ - The state playoffs are a chance at a clean slate for any team lucky enough to be invited. For Randolph, a perennial powerhouse in NJSIAA Group A, a deep run in states would go a long way toward alleviating a regular season of ups and downs.
First leg in the round of 16, Randolph, as the top seed, drew Hillsborough on Thursday at Mennen Arena. The two teams had to wait nearly an extra hour to take the ice as Morristown-Beard and Gloucester Catholic went to a dramatic shootout which saw both sides celebrate what seemed like their victory when a disputed call had Gloucester Catholic over the boards to celebrate a victory that wouldn't be as Mo-Beard took the shootout.
The Rams took to the ice themselves and dominated play from the get-go. Hillsborough hung in and kept it 1-0 after one period, albeit only generating two shots in the period. Randolph pulled away with three in the second, and two more in the third, sealing Hillsborough's fate, 6-0.
In the opening minutes, a hard hit to Ken O'Brien in the corner halted play, and saw Tamminga thrown on a line with Noah Leinwand and Mitchell Gaudioso, and the results were spectacular. Stefan Tamminga opened the scoring for Randolph from the top of the crease 4:37 into the first, assisted by Leinwand and Gaudioso. Gaudioso then scored twice in the second, both from Leinwand and Tamminga, to make it 3-0.
“Noah and I have been playing together the last couple weeks,” said Gaudioso after the game. “Kenny O'Brien got hurt and Stef was able to move up and have a real good game. Came up into our line and played real well with us.”
Luke Wright added a goal from the blue line with 1:03 left in the second that fluttered over the glove of Hillsborough's Marty Paro to make it 4-0. Also adding another two assists to Tamminga and Leinwand, who along with Gaudioso combined for 11 points.
Junior Tyler Jones added a goal in the third on a redirection off a blast by senior Brian Greulich to make it 5-0, and sophomore Christopher Holowko deked his way past Paro to cap off the 6-0 win.
For Randolph it was a much needed emphatic win and a convincing start to the playoffs. Andrew Holowko only had to make six saves for the shutout as his frustrated counterpart Paro faced 58.
“It's a brand new season for everyone, everybody's 0-0 and every game is a state championship game now, if you don't win this one you don't win anything,” said Randolph coach Rich McLaughlin, who thought they played well but wants the Rams to play a full three periods, a sentiment echoed by Leinwand after the game. “We took a shift or two off, which you can't do, but overall it was a good game,” said Leinwand. “We needed this, so we can roll, we're gonna roll through now.”
For McLaughlin the lessons from these games are crucial going forward, and there is something to be taken from the Mo-Beard vs Gloucester Catholic game and shootout the team watched from up against the glass, not to mention the dramatic Olympic shootouts. “It's something you talk about in the locker room. You see how quickly it can be over. You don't want to have it come down to a shootout. You don't want to let that happen to you.”
Next up is Howell, a team that McLaughlin said easily could have been a top seed. “Howell is a real good team, I think Howell got a bad seed, they are much better than a 9 seed. . . they have a couple great players. They're for real.”