NEWARK, NJ- The drought is over. After a four-year hiatus, their longest stretch since before the 2002 season, the Randolph Rams ice hockey team is back where they belong, at the Top of the Rock as NJSIAA Public B State Champions.
After being a key part of a team that reached the finals the past two seasons but came up short, Randolph senior JT Zangara was not going to be denied again. The Captain did everything in his power, registering a hat trick that included the game winner in OT, to lead the Rams to a 3-2 victory on Monday Mar 9 at the Prudential Center.
"This was a revenge tour, we have been talking about it since Mar 4 last year,” said Zangara. They ( Ridge ) took something from us and from our brothers, and we wanted to come back this year and win the championship."
In the 2019 finals, Randolph and Ridge were tied at 1-1 before 3 goals in the final 9 minutes blew the game open for a 4-1 Ridge win.
In this year’s rematch, the Rams appeared in complete control with a 2-0 lead late in the third. But it was a bit of Deja-Vu, as Ridge caught fire late and stunned the whole arena with 2 goals thirty seconds apart in the final minutes, to tie it up and sent the contest into OT.
“We didn’t make it easy on ourselves, the last 3-4 minutes we must have started the party early in our heads,” said coach Rich McLaughlin. “That’s a good team over there in Ridge, and they don’t quit. We played well for 43 minutes and then fell apart in the last few minutes.”
The game started with a scoreless first period, and the Rams taking an 8-3 advantage in shots on goal. Randolph then struck first, grabbing a 1-0 lead with a shorthanded goal in the middle of the second, when Ben Yurchuck hit Zangara up ice with a stretch pass for a breakaway. Randolph was forced to kill off two more penalties in the period, which kept them on their heels more than they were in the first.
With the shots tied at 14 each after two, Randolph carried play in the third, and when Zangara scored again with 9 minutes left, things were looking good. However, with the Rams holding the 2-0 lead and a 26-18 edge in shots, things suddenly unraveled.
Ridge woke up with 2:37 left by sneaking one past Gavin Einfeldt when a shot from the left point was redirected into the net. They jumped on their sudden momentum, and 30 seconds later scored again to tie the game at 2-2, sending the game to OT.
“In the locker room, I told them we could feel sorry for ourselves and tank this thing, or we could not let a minute and a half of bad play ruin our season,” said McLaughlin. “You can’t look back, everyone has to win the next shift, and someone has to step up because we were just one shot away from winning a championship.”
The stage was then set for a dramatic finish no matter which team ended up on top.
“You couldn’t have written a better ending for us,” said Einfeldt. “Coach always preaches heart to us, and to play with effort. He always says it is up to us to want it and play a full game. Today we needed a bit more than 45 minutes, but we got it done.”
Those few extra minutes didn’t start in the Rams favor, as the Red Devils swirled around Einfeldt's net and fired more shots in his direction, but the senior turned them all away. Then the Rams switched the ice and Zangara threw down the hammer on Ridge.
Yurchuk drove up the left-wing boards and worked his way around the back of the net where he did most of his best work this season. The freshman moved to the far boards, turned, and quickly threw the puck in front. Zangara stopped it with his skate before flipping it past the goaltender and skating off to celebrate the win.
“Honestly I didn’t remember how it happened until I looked at the board and saw the replay,” said Zangara. “Ben has been pheromonal all year, he just put the puck in front, and I was there to score.”
For the Rams, the redemption tour was not just about this year's team.
“This feels amazing; we have been working way too hard the past two years to come up short and not win this title,” said Captain Mike Sofia. “We have seen some great senior classes go out without a championship, and we did this not just for us, but for them too.”