SOMERSET, NJ — A Ridge ice hockey season that began with the team in quarantine and its coach in the hospital ended with a championship on Saturday night.
Ridge defeated Hunterdon Central, 3-1, to win the Skyland Conference Tournament championship at ProTec Ponds.
Ridge (8-1) scored two of its three goals less than a minute apart midway through the first period. Matt Balzarotti and Erik Helgeson scored the goals, with Helgeson’s coming after an assist by Egor Barborov for a 2-0 lead.
Ridge killed off two penalties, one late in the first period and another in the second period, before Balzarotti scored again off a scramble late in the second period to extend the Ridge lead to 3-0.
All three of Ridge’s goals came at even strength. Hunterdon Central (6-5) scored on a power play goal by Josef Polacek with 1:44 left to cut the Ridge lead to 3-1.
Senior goalie Jack Richter made 26 saves for Ridge. In a game where the shots were almost even, Hunterdon Central goalie Jack Menichillo also stopped 26 shots.
The start of Ridge’s season was delayed more than a week--in addition to the NJSIAA’s mandated late start--in January. Head coach Pat Mullin spent time in the hospital and was not there for the start of the team’s season. And then Ridge had another COVID-caused interruption during the season, and went from Feb. 14 through Feb. 28 without playing a game.
Without a state tournament in 2021, the Skyland Cup was the only title Ridge had to play for. This was Ridge’s first Skyland Cup title in three years, but the program won a state championship in between, in Public B in 2019, and lost in the state final to Randolph last season.