By Mike Gurnis
The difference between Morristown-Beard’s play between last year- and even the first two games of this season- and now, is night-and-day.
The 2018-19 season was a down year for the Crimson, as a young team finished below .500 and lost in the first round of the Mennen Cup as well as the NJSIAA Non-Public Round of 16.
But the struggles and experience that came with last season during coach Scott Greene’s first year are now beginning to pay off for Morristown-Beard. After an 0-2 start to this season, which included a loss to Randolph as well as a blowout loss to Morris Knolls-Hills, it has now rattled off six wins in a row, with its latest being a 4-3 win over Randolph on Friday evening at Mennen Arena.
It also marked its second straight win over a Top 10 team in the state, after topping then-NJ.com No. 1 Bergen Catholic last Friday.
“From last year to this year, a lot of it was foundation and building blocks that we put in last year,” Greene said. “We had a young squad last year, so we were able to teach those guys and get them into the system and program that we want to run. We have a lot of young guys still, but last year half the team was underclassmen. Only three or four guys that played had varsity experience before. We’ve had everybody step up in various roles. But I think buying into the concepts is what has brought this team together.”
On Friday, the Crimson got contributions from across its entire lineup, as four different players found the back of the net. It struck twice in the first period, as Noah Jones scored off a rebound 24 seconds into the game, before Roman Berger added another late in the period.
But Randolph, the consensus favorite to win the Mennen Cup before the season, was not going to back down. Ben Yurchuk made a pass from behind the net to an open Kyle Barbera in the slot, who buried it and cut Morristown-Beard’s lead to 2-1 with 5:25 left in the second.
It was a moment that could have changed the momentum of the game, but Morristown-Beard made sure it did not on its very next shift. Seth Kaplan took a pass from Andrew Low and fired it top shelf just 33 seconds later to restore the two-goal advantage. Then, that line struck again two minutes later, as defenseman D.J. Layden’s pass through the neutral zone sprung Andrew Low for a breakaway, and he capitalized to make it 4-1.
“Obviously it was very big,” Layden said of the response. “Against a team like this, we know they don’t give up, and talking to each other in the locker room, we knew they were going to come out hard. We just had to come out harder, and that’s what we did.”
As impressive as Morristown-Beard was through most of this game, it certainly did not come without its share of tense moments. Randolph’s Ray McNamara scored with under five minutes in the game to cut the deficit to 2, before Zach Gallo scored off a rebound with the goalie pulled with 51 seconds left to make it 4-3.
Morristown-Beard called timeout to settle down the troops after that goal, and it was able to get through the final seconds with a couple of nice saves by Luke McManus, and came away with another impressive victory.
“I think we just had to not get too far ahead of ourselves and not look too far ahead,” Matthews said. “We just played good defense, we played structured and didn’t allow them to get any chances and we just buckled down and got the win.”
Now, this year’s team will look to continue to build off of the lessons it learned from a year ago. It has shown that it has the talent to compete with anyone, and having an experienced, seasoned team makes a good team even stronger.
“I think we learned that anything can happen in this league,” Layden said. “Not everything will go your way, but that doesn’t mean you pack your bags and throw it away. You just keep working until the end. I think we’ve really built since last year. We’ve got a lot of new guys, a lot of rookies who have stepped up and taken big roles. But it’s taken everyone. No matter how many shifts they had, they’re always pushing.”
MB — Noah Jones (Hollis Humphries, Tommy Matthews) 14:36
MB — Roman Berger (Ryan Brown, Evan Sanford) 2:58
RAN — Kyle Barbera (Ben Yurchuk, Jordan Cross) 5:25
MB — Seth Kaplan (Andrew Low, Billy Moloney) 4:53
MB — Andrew Low (D.J. Layden, Billy Moloney) 2:43
RAN — Ray McNamara (Zach Gallo, Ben Yurchuk) 4:54
RAN — Zach Gallo (J.T. Zangara, Ben Yurchuk) 0:51
Shots on goal: Randolph 22, Morristown-Beard 20
Saves: Luke McManus (Morristown-Beard) 19, Gavin Einfeldt (Randolph) 16
Team records: Randolph 7-2-1, Morristown-Beard 6-2