NEWARK, NJ – No. 2 seed Morris Knolls defeated No. 1 seed Hillsborough, 6-1, at the Prudential Center in Newark on March 4 to take home the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association Public A championship. After shaking off two penalties early in the game, senior Sean Murray hit the ice with focus and determination to lead the Golden Eagles to their first state championship since 2014.
Hillsborough had an insurmountable task – facing a team whose offense and defense were playing to near perfection. It took one scoreless period for Morris Knolls to settle in and find its groove. Murray scored the first goal of the game 3:43 into the second period, assisted by senior Jacob Walsh. From that point on, the Golden Eagles showed no mercy until the final buzzer.
Murray scored a total of four goals (the first two of the second period and the only two of the third), and Walsh assisted all four. Sophomore Jason Kwestel made the secondary assist on the third goal, and senior Tikhon Ryerson earned the primary assist on the fourth.
As for being in the right place at the right time, Walsh chocked it up to the chemistry he and Murray have. “I was able to find Sean, and Sean always finishes.”
Golden Eagles sophomore Gehrig Eckoff also netted the puck in the second period, assisted by sophomore Andrew Ryan and senior Robbie Singley. About a minute later, Kwestel sent the puck to the back of the net unassisted for the fourth goal of the second period.
Jude Kurtas scored Hillsborough’s only goal 5:09 into the second period, assisted by Jason Wolff.
Senior goalie Ty Franchi had 30 saves for Morris Knolls, while Jason LoRicco had 32.
When asked about his apparent nerves of steel, Franchi stated that a big-time game required a big-time goalie, and he was able to step up and play that role. “The goalie also controls the game, which was made easy for me with my teammates scoring six goals.”
Franchi also had little concern about facing a No. 1 seed. “I wasn’t worried about seeding. We’ve been battle-tested to a greater degree. So no, I wasn’t worried.” The senior plans to try out for junior hockey after graduation.
Like most coaches, Tim Kepler never lost faith in his players even while experiencing a slump mid-season. “I expected this level of performance,” he stated. “They really wanted the championship, so we set high expectations that they all met. I’m really happy for them.”
Unsurprisingly, the post-game celebration was euphoric. “This is amazing,” shared Murray. “It’s the best feeling in the world.” When expressing his fondness for his teammates, Murray added, “I wouldn’t want to play with anyone else in the world.”
TAPintoDenville.net is a member of the New Jersey Press Association and is a hyperlocal news site that serves residents, organizations and business owners of Denville, New Jersey.
Sign up for our FREE daily eNews.
Got a news tip? Email us at fnixon@TAPinto.net.