ROSELLE, NJ — The Highlanders’ hockey express punched their ticket to the final last night, and the next stop on this run is the Msgr. Kelly Cup Championship.
Brandon Cuccaro finished with two goals and four assists, Brady Silverman hit net twice, Matthew Darata collected five assists and Shane Cook turned aside 17 of the 18 shots he faced to fuel another dominating offensive show as top-seed Gov. Livingston/New Providence rolled to a 7-1 triumph over fifth-seeded Montclair Kimberley in the semifinal round of the Kelly Cup at Warinanco Park Rink.
Gov. Livingston, which won its third straight contest and improved to 11-1, will play third-seeded and defending champion Cranford (4-6) at Codey Arena in West Orange for the championship on Thursday at 5 p.m. The Highlanders are seeking their first Kelly Cup since 2017.
After a mostly tightly contested first period, it was another clinic on possession hockey from the Highlanders, who used a four-goal second period outburst to send them on their way.
Montclair Kimberley (4-5) and Gov. Livingston skated through a brisk opening 15 minutes in which the Essex County team held the shot advantage. But the Highlanders were able to come away with the lead, courtesy of a goal from Cuccaro. The sophomore defenseman’s 30-foot blast from inside the blue line found the net to give the Highlanders a 1-0 advantage with 7:34 left.
“They came out with speed and outshot us in the first and really tested us,” said Gov. Livingston coach Michael Criscitello. “Maybe we were a little nervous. We’ve never been a No. 1 seed. We’ve usually been the underdog, so it’s new territory for us and I think we may have had some nerves at the start. To come out of the first with that 1-0 lead was big. I think in second they just didn’t have the depth, and we were able to take it to them as the game went on, and our defensive play was outstanding.”
That one-goal advantage didn’t last long after Gov. Livingston got second period goals from Cuccaro, Matthew Wallen, Kramer and Silverman and the rout was on — and a 5-0 lead after 30 minutes.
“We’re all just thrilled,” said Skotarczak, asenior defenseman and captain, who contributed a goal and an assist. “This is what we’ve been working for all season. We knew after the first that the 1-0 lead wasn’t enough, but we were getting chances in the first period. We just needed to stay on our horse and keep coming at them. They were really only rolling two lines so once we put a couple in in the second our depth wore them out.”
The Highlanders, whose last loss came against Westfield, 3-2, on Feb. 17, played Cranford earlier this season and came away with a 9-2 win. But that outcome doesn’t mean much at this point.
Silverman and Skotarczak both scored in the third to extend Highlander’s lead to 7-1. Adam Zidlicky got MKA on the board late in the game, ruining the shutout bid for Cook.
“Cranford is like a playoff team,” Criscitello said, who also praised defenseman Sebastian Gratson for an outstanding game. “They won it last year, and they could definitely win it again. We beat them earlier, but you can throw that game out the window now. It doesn’t mean anything. We are right there.The Kelly Cup is right in front of us.”