By Mike Gurnis
MORRIS TWP. — With just over two minutes remaining and with his team holding a one-goal lead after a timeout, Madison goalie Matt Ubertaccio skated back to his crease, raising his arms in the air to implore his student section to make noise.
It’s rare to see a goaltender show that type of emotion- especially in a tight, late-game situation in which being calm and collected is of the utmost importance.
But this wasn’t just any late-game situation, as the senior knew that his team was on the verge of doing something that past Madison squads would have considered unthinkable. Once play resumed, he went right back to doing what he had done all game, which was making life as difficult as possible on Randolph’s forwards.
Ubertaccio made a total of 28 saves- including several lead-preserving saves in the third period- to lift second seeded Madison to a 3-1 victory over top seed Randolph to clinch the program’s first-ever Mennen Cup title at Mennen Arena.
Jason Siedem broke a 1-1 tie 3:38 into the third period for what proved to be the game-winning goal, before Dave Renzulli iced the game with an empty-netter late. It meant that Madison would be the first program to win the Halvorsen and Mennen Cup in back-to-back seasons, as well as the first to win all three MCSSIHL titles, after it won the Haas Cup in 2015.
“It’s definitely huge. Coming into freshman year I just figured we’d be a Halvorsen, regular team and not even have a chance at making it to the Mennen,” Ubertaccio said. “Now, winning a Halvorsen and a Mennen in two years is just… I can’t even put it into words.”
“We’ve never had one before,” Renzulli added. “This means everything to us, to the coaches, to everyone. We always joked about getting to the Mennen Cup, but we’d never think we could actually make it. We started with the Haas Cup, then we won the Halvorsen, and we finally made it to the Mennen and we never thought we were going to make it here.”
What made the victory on Friday all the more impressive was the fact that Madison was able to come from behind against Randolph. In postseason play, Randolph is known for playing a very tight, defensive-oriented game- especially when it gets a lead- which is exactly what it did when Justin Harper gave the Rams the lead just 5:02 into the game. In many postseason games in the past, one goal has been more than enough for Randolph to win.
But Madison was able to buck that trend, as Renzulli picked the top-right corner off a feed from Siedem in the final minute of the first period to tie the game up.
“They got a quick goal but we kept our heads up,” Renzulli said. “We always support each other. The coaches don’t let us get our heads down. We just stick together as a team, stick to our systems, stick to our play, and just play our game.”
The remainder of the game was a tight-checking and physical, yet relatively clean game between the squads, as there were only three penalties taken in the game. Both goalies made key saves throughout, with Randolph’s Gavin Einfeldt holding his own at the opposite end of Ubertaccio with 18 saves.
But the third period is when Madison made its mark. Early in the period, Renzulli had the puck during a 2-on-1 rush with Siedem, and the senior passed the puck to his teammate at the left circle who fired it into the net, giving his squad the first lead of the game.
Preserving that lead down the stretch proved to be a challenge for the Dodgers, who spent a lot of time in the defensive zone in the final five minutes, including a key penalty kill which began with 6:25 left in the game.
Randolph had several opportunities to get the game-tying goal on that power play and in the immediate aftermath, but Ubertaccio and the Madison defense were able to preserve the lead.
“It’s definitely a stressful couple of minutes there since we had the lead,” Ubertaccio said. “I knew that I just had to stay calm and do my job and stay relaxed. I just had to watch the puck and that’s what I did. Defensively, we took the man out, and I just had to watch the puck and make the saves. We just came together as a team and won.”
“We hit a post, we hit a head, it was just bad puck luck for us,” Randolph coach Rich McLaughlin said. “I don’t want to take anything away from them, but we could’ve scored some goals tonight. Maybe on another night we do score some goals. But (Ubertaccio) is a good goalie, and he blocked the shots and that’s what it is. We made a mistake and they put one in.”
Renzulli was able to put home an empty-net goal with 1:26 left, just seconds after Randolph decided to pull the goalie for the extra attacker. The shot came all the way from center ice, and the celebration was on for Madison, one that many could not have envisioned in past seasons.
Now, both Madison and Randolph will turn their attention to the upcoming state tournament. Madison earned the second seed in Public C, and will host the winner of 15th seed Mendham and 18th seed Jackson Liberty next Thursday at 5:45 p.m., as it looks to make even more history in its chase for the program’s first state title.
Randolph, on the other hand, will look to turn the page after falling short of a Mennen Cup repeat. It is the top seed and presumptive favorite in Public B, and it will host the winner of 16th-seed Park Regional and 17th-seed Passaic Valley-Cedar Grove on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m.
“We worked hard. (Madison) is a very good team and you can’t make a mistake against them,” McLaughlin said. “If you make a mistake, they get a goal. That’s what it came down to. We just move on from here. We’ve got the states coming up, so we’ve just got to move on to the next game. Monday, we practice.”
RAN — Justin Harper (Evan Xhumba, Luke Spagnuolo) 9:58
MAD — Dave Renzulli (Jason Siedem) 0:52
MAD — Jason Siedem (Dave Renzulli) 11:22
MAD — Dave Renzulli 1:26 ENG
Shots: Randolph 29, Madison 21
Saves: Matt Ubertaccio (Madison) 28, Gavin Einfeldt (Randolph) 18