CRANFORD - Three days after an upset victory over top-seeded Verona in the Kelly Cup finals, the Cranford Cougars had at least one more trick up their sleeve.
Senior Luke Pachkowski scored the game-winning goal in overtime to lead 15th-seeded Cranford past 18th-seeded Ramapo, 5-4, in the preliminary round of the NJSIAA Public C tournament, on Monday night at Warinanco Ice Skating Center.
Pachkowski's game-winner came 5:09 into the overtime period. Jake Icklan finessed his way through traffic and drilled a wrist shot off the right leg pad of Ramapo goalie Dallas Phillips. Pachkowski found himself in the right place at the right time as the puck deflected directly to him and he flicked it into the back right corner of the net.
"This team never says die," said Pachkowski. "We fought the entire time. We weren't going to let us go down there. We just did whatever it took to win. We got a good win on the faceoff, Icklan shot it, and I just got the rebound and did my job. That's what we do. Every one of us does our job."
The Cougars found themselves in trouble early as Matteo Wilde received a five-minute major for a blow to the head less than two minutes in. 51 seconds later, Ramapo took a 1-0 lead on an unassisted power-play goal by Will Neal. Towards the end of the first period, a hooking penalty by Chris Kube found Ramapo again on the power-play, but Cranford was able to net a short-handed goal by Pachkowski, assisted by Aiden Plick, to tie the game.
Carrying the momentum into the second period, Anthony Massoni put Cranford on top 2-1 a little over two minutes in. The momentum didn't last as Plick received five minutes in the box for boarding at 10:19, and Kyle Livernois notched Ramapo's second power-play goal nine seconds later. The Raiders would take a 3-2 lead with 7:32 left in the second off an unlikely goal from the blue line by Jack DeKorte that snuck its way through the legs of Cranford goalie Harry Devenny.
Despite the ugly play, the Cougars' would "never say die." Cranford's leading goal-scorer Michael Schneider needed just 35 seconds in the third period to tie the game 3-3. Schneider deked DeKorte, giving himself a clear path for a shortside goal. Joe Vocca again put Ramapo ahead with 12:16 left in regulation, but Kube was able to make up for his early penalty with a slapshot knuckler that one-hopped past Phillips to force overtime.
The Cougars will have their biggest challenge to date this season as they advance to face second-seeded Lakeland, ranked No. 12 in the NJ.com Top 20, in the first round tentatively set for 6:45 on Friday at Ice Vault Arena in Wayne.
"It's all about heart now," said Pachkowski. "That's what we play with. We're a physical team, which not a lot of teams are anymore. I feel like we have more heart, and that's what it's going to come down to on Friday night."