NEWARK, NJ - The Randolph Rams hockey team has climbed to the top of "The Rock" and are once again the king of New Jersey Public A hockey. Two third period goals, from seniors Matt Koop and Matt Bruno, triggered a dramatic come from behind win over Howell, 2-1, on Monday night.
“We knew from the beginning of the season we were dead set on getting here," Bruno said. "After losing in the semis last year to (Morris) Knolls, we had a big hole in our heart to fill, and tonight we did that.”
In the first period the Rams were clearly the aggressors, and dictated the tempo of the game while keeping the puck in the offensive end for most of the period. They found success cycling the puck and getting shot after shot on net. Bruno was stopped on a few wraparound chances, and Mike Slavin and Chris Holowko created havoc by crashing the net.
Rebels goalie Bobby Dovenero stood on his head, turning back every Randolph chance to keep his team alive.
Howell, who had scored an eye-popping 210 goals this season, was completely shut down, getting only 2 shots on goal in the period.
Randolph coach Rich McLaughlin explained, “They have one of the best first lines in the state. For us to stop them, it was not just one guy, it is everyone coming together and working as a team. We wanted to swarm them, get in their face, and not give them any space to shoot. “
Randolph defenders kept Howells rushes wide, forcing the puck to the walls. Bryan Early, Jack Zimmer, Alex Kranis and Quinn Rogers challenged every Howell shot, not allowing much through to Goalie Garret Stenberg.
The Rams ended the first with a dominating 22-2 advantage in shots on net
Play slowed considerably in the second, as the teams traded only 5 shots on goal apiece. Both teams appeared to play cautiously, as neither one established themselves as the aggressor nor had many opportunities. On only their sixth shot on net in the game, Howell made the most of one of their chances.
It was a power play for Randolph, however it was Howell who struck for a shorthanded goal. With a sudden burst of energy, Howell went on a rush and forechecked hard, pinning the puck in the Rams end and creating an opportunity. A pass across the crease found their sniper and leading scorer Kyle Hallbauer, who wristed a shot over Stenberg for a stunning 1-0 lead.
Stenberg, on his mind set after giving up the goal, said, “They scored. Nothing I can do about that. I just have to turn my focus to the next shot and keep making the saves.”
And he did just that. Late in the second, and again early in the third on a critical man down for Randolph, Stenberg made two point blank saves on the Rebels to keep the game in reach.
On starting the third, coach McLaughlin had a message for his team, “We just said, let’s get back to how we played in the first, with energy and hard work. Nothing changed, we had to score anyway, even if it was 0-0 we still had to score in order to win. We knew we had 15 minutes to get one goal, and then worry about the other one later.
The Rams began to assert themselves again, taking control of the game and turning up the pressure. With only 8:45 left in the game, senior Matt Koop flew out onto the ice with his hero cape on. In a workmanlike play, Bruno put the puck up the boards to Matt Redgate, and crashed the net with Koop. Redgate took a shot from the right wing boards, and when the rebound popped out to Koop, he quickly flipped the rebound into the back of the net.
When asked about scoring such a huge goal, Koop said “It was unreal. Matt ( Redgate ) put the puck on net, I saw it pop out to me and I got my stick on it and got it past the goalie.”
With all the momentum back in their favor, and their intensity and shot totals continuing to pile up, Bruno decided it was his turn to play hero.
This time Koop started the play, getting the puck to Bruno behind the net with only 2:40 to go. The big forward did what he had tried five times already in the game, and on the sixth time he struck gold when he stuffed the puck into the net on a wrap around from the left side, setting off a frenzy in the Randolph fan section.
Describing the goal, Bruno explained, “I just kept trying, I will do anything to get that ugly goal. I am a big kid, I am not a sniper, I just try and bang away and drive the puck into the net.”
The final two minutes saw Randolph do everything possible to keep Howell away from their net, and their hard work, and deeper team, secured the 2-1 victory, while shutting down and outshooting Howell by a 39-19 margin.
After the game, Koop said, “It is the most amazing feeling ever, especially in my senior year it is unreal”
Bruno added, “It was great playing and winning with my brothers in there. I couldn’t ask for a better group.”
Stenberg stated, “Many of us have played with each other since we were five years old. Winning a state championship with these guys, in our senior year, is just an incredible feeling.”
With the win tonight, Randolph has re-staked their claim as the states’ public hockey powerhouse. Winning the State Public A championship 8 times in eleven Finals appearances over the past fourteen years speaks for itself.