RANDOLPH, NJ- In one of the more ‘non-typical’ Randolph boys ice hockey games, the Rams took advantage of their opportunities and shut out Sparta-Jefferson 3-0 to advance to the semi-finals of the NJSIAA state playoffs.
The Rams are used to outshooting their opponents, while putting the defensive clamps on to keep the opponent away from their own net. In their quarterfinal matchup with the Spartans, the Rams were out shot 18-6 through two periods, but held a 2-0 lead heading into the third.
“Those guys were physical and we had trouble matching their intensity early, but I knew if I weathered the early storm, my guys up front would get me a goal,” said goalie and Rams captain Luc Swedlund. “The boys did a great job letting me see pucks and made it easier on me keeping their shots to the outside. I was locked in from the start and just tracked pucks in.”
Sparta held a 12-5 shot advantage in the first, but it was a Jack Zimmer goal off a rebound of a Nick Civetta shot that gave the Rams a 1-0 lead.
The second period was even more atypical for the Rams in terms of shots on net, as they were out shot 6-1. However the one shot they had, on a Will Zimmer breakaway, found its way up under the crossbar and hit twine to give the Rams a 2-0 lead.
The assist came on a heads up play and a fantastic pass from Swedlund, who caught the Spartans in a bad change and took advantage when he noticed Zimmer jump off the bench and into wide open ice. Swedlund hit Zimmer with a pass at the blue line, sending him in on the Spartans goalie all alone, and after two fakes the puck was roofed up into the top right corner of the net.
“I have to be honest, when they dumped it on me and I saw Will streaking down the ice, I finally got the chance to try and get an assist,” said Swedlund. “We’ve been working on that in practice and it finally paid off on a big stage. I was able to fire it up to him and he did the rest. One of the coolest memories I’ll have from my career was also a big turning point of the game.”
It certainly turned the tides, as the Spartans were growing increasingly more frustrated and it showed in their play in the third when the game got very physical and chippy.
Halfway through the third, the Spartans took a bad, undisciplined penalty when a player took a run at one of the Rams and crosschecked him far away from the play.
Randolph got the best kind of revenge a team can get for that, when they put the nail in the Spartans coffin with a JT Zangara goal to go up 3-0. Both Zimmers assisted on the goal which came off a pass from the corner to the front of the net where Zangara made a nifty play redirecting the puck past the goaltender.
It got even more scrappy in the games’ final minutes. Two Spartans continued to push, shove, and go after multiple Randolph players long after the whistle, resulting in one of them getting thrown out of the game and the other in the penalty box. The Rams players refrained from retaliating, as they knew more was at stake for them.
“They were chippy, and it seemed like they were trying to trip me and take me out, or get me off my game,” said Swedlund, who was interfered with and knocked over multiple times in those final minutes. “I just tried to worry about the puck and track it the best I could. I kept telling the boys ‘We have more hockey to play and they are done, don’t do anything stupid.’”
After a very uneven, up and down year, the Rams are finding their stride at just the right time, playing some of their best hockey in winning three in a row and six of their last eight games.
"Throughout the year, we've been talking about peaking at the right time and truly other than this past week and a half we didn't have our full team," said Alternate captain Jack Zimmer. "The time is now, everybody's on board and hungry for the next game in the process."
The Rams ended up taking 15 total shots on net for the game, and Swedlund made 29 saves to earn the playoff shutout win. His team now prepares to face a strong Ridge team, seeded one spot ahead of the Rams at No. 2.
“This is huge for us as we look forward to Thursday, said Swedlund. “If we can play a little more physical and have a little more jam, we can give Ridge a run.”
The Rams meet Ridge on Thursday Mar. 2 at Cody Arena in West Orange at 4:30.