RANDOLPH, NJ- Since 2003, Randolph High School has earned a well-deserved reputation as the premier Public hockey team in the state of NJ. Reaching the state finals in 13 of the last 17 seasons, and skating away with the title eight times, makes a compelling case that is hard for anyone to argue with.
However, the Rams have hit a bit of a slump in bringing home the hardware recently, having been on the short end of the scoreboard in their last three trips to the finals, including the last two seasons in a row. That is a trend this years’ team has every intention of reversing, and the 2019-20 Rams appear loaded with the talent to do just that.
“Coming up short in the state championship two years in a row wasn’t a great feeling,” said Rams Captain and leading scorer JT Zangara. “Last year we were a young team, so now most of us have experience in the state playoffs. We will look to that as motivation for this upcoming season to make this year something special.”
Coming off the 2018-19 campaign with a 21-5-2 record, the Rams return almost entirely intact, with just a few players lost to graduation. They will need to replace captain Austin Cross and fellow defenseman Owen Mueller on the blueline.
Up front, the presence of physical forward Joe Theobold will be missed, but the Rams have numerous capable bodies to choose from who can step in and fill that role.
“With most of the forwards returning the offense is coming together nicely, and the new additions to the team have only helped us,” said senior Alternate Captain Justin Harper. “There are still a couple of kinks to work out with most of the forwards being evenly matched, so it is tough to find who will work best together. Even with the kinks, I believe that we are in a good position for the beginning of the season.”
Offensive firepower should not be in short supply for the Rams, as they return all five of their top scorers from last season, led by Zangara’s 49 points ( 19g. 30a. )
“JT has a chance to be one of the leading scorers of all time at Randolph,” said McLaughlin. “He works hard each time he hits the ice and can be one of the most dominant players in the state this season.”
Juniors Nick Gallo ( 35 points ) and James Mattson ( 27 points ), senior Evan Xhumba ( 27 points ) and Sophomore Kyle Barbera ( 34 points ) round out the top five scorers from last year.
Joining them on the offense are Harper, Chris Civetta, Sam Jones and Luke Spagnuolo who were all key members of last years team. Newcomers include Ben Redgate and Matt Rogers, along with Ben Yurchuk and Zach Gallo.
To prepare his team to make another run in 2019-20, coach Rich McLaughlin front loaded his pre-season with some traditionally strong teams in St. Peter’s, Pope John, Pingry, and Northern Highlands. The Rams responded by going 4-0, outscoring those clubs by a combined 23-5.
“We should be able to score goals this year,” said Rams coach Rich McLaughlin. “But we will need to play better defense as a team; I think we will get better as the season moves along.”
Anchoring the blueline as the defensive leader will be senior Captain Michael Sofia, a multiyear varsity starter. Returning with Sofia will be Senior Ray McNamara and Junior Matt Cislo.
“Mike is a great leader and will be one of the better defensemen in the Morris County League this year,” said McLaughlin. “He plays power play, man down and will be relied on to shut down the other team’s best players.”
Newcomers on defense include sophomore Jordan Cross and senior Eitan Leinwand. Others looking to earn time on defense include senior Noah Solotist, junior Scott Kuridza, and junior Andrew Iglar.
In net, Gavin Einfeld returns from being the main starter last season. Previous backup Matt Cuizio, who won all 8 of his starts last year has graduated, and will be replaced by juniors Joe Yutsus and Niko Flores.
The Rams will boast a more skilled and balanced squad across the board than they have had in recent years. With so many pieces to work with, this should up their ability to execute on both man-up and man-down situations.
“Our powerplay looks very good, all five of us are threats when we have the puck,” said Zangara. “It is going to be hard to stop us. Defensively, on the PK, we know how important it is to get the puck out and block shots.”
Ultimately, the main goal this season is to be the last team standing in early March when the state playoffs are over.
“Our mindset is to pick up right where we left off, keep playing our game, and push to get further then we did last season,” said Sofia. “Our goals are to take back the Mennen cup and the public B state championship, and as captain I’m making sure everyone knows how to reach them.”
Sofia then added, “We have to put in the work and It’s going to be tough with this year’s competition, but with this group of guys it’s possible.”
The Rams open their season on the road against Vernon on Saturday Nov.31. They open their home schedule on Tuesday Dec. 3 at Mennen arena against Morristown Beard at 8:00 PM.