By Mike Gurnis
To describe Morris Knolls’ 2018-19 season- which ended in a Public A title with a 6-1 win over Hillsborough on Monday night at the Prudential Center- as a roller-coaster of emotions would be an understatement.
The year began with a solid 4-2 start, with wins over Mennen Division counterparts Chatham and Madison. But then, adversity hit the Golden Eagles in a big way.
From Dec. 12 through Jan. 8, Morris Knolls was unable to find a way into the win column in seven tries, dropping the team to a dismal 4-8-1 mark, and putting its hopes for even qualifying for the state tournament in serious doubt.
But as bad as that month of hockey was for Morris Knolls, the month that followed was on the opposite end of the spectrum in a good way. It proceeded to go on an eight-game unbeaten streak which spanned over a month putting the team into the state tournament on the last day before the cutoff.
“It was an upset at first, because we all thought we had a fantastic team and we were playing really well,” said Sean Murray, who scored four goals on Monday night. “As soon as we started losing, we were just kind of punched in the face. As soon as we lost our sixth or seventh in a row, we said this is it, we’re done, and we’re going to win from here on out. That’s basically what we did, right to a state championship.”
While the streak ended with a loss to Madison in the Mennen Cup semifinals, that loss ended up being the only loss for the Golden Eagles in the final two calendar months of the season.
Its road in the state tournament certainly wasn’t without its share of drama, though. In its first round state tournament game, it needed overtime to knock off 18th-seeded Old Bridge, 2-1. Then, in the quarterfinals, it needed overtime again, as it knocked off defending Public A champion Hunterdon Central- the seventh seed- 3-2.
It needed to score four unanswered goals in the semifinals after falling behind in the second period to top Paramus-Lyndhurst-Hackensack.
But for all of the drama, the roller-coaster of emotions that was this season, Morris Knolls can call itself a state champion for the third time in program history, and will take the state trophy back home to Rockaway for the first time since 2014.
Seniors such as Murray, goalie Ty Franchi, Jacob Walsh (four assists), Kieran Regen, Tikhon Ryerson, who were part of an impressive 13-man senior class, will get to go out in the best way possible- as champions.
“Honestly I’m at a loss for words,” Franchi, who made 30 saves, said. “To think my senior year would be the year that we’d win a state championship, I would’ve thought it would’ve been my sophomore year with the kind of talent I had. But unbelievable. The boys came together. I wasn’t here all season, I had travel, but they accepted me when I was here, and I love this whole big family.”
Murray added: “(I’m) speechless. It’s the best feeling I’ve ever felt. I don’t think I’ll ever forget this.”