By Mike Gurnis
RANDOLPH — In a battle against one of the top public school programs in the state, Randolph did just about all it needed to to come away with a win on Wednesday.
It controlled the game with its trademark physicality and its stifling defense, and got some key saves from its goaltender.
But unfortunately for the Rams, Summit was equal to the challenge defensively, and goaltender Nikita Pryymak was not going to be beaten. Despite a 39-17 advantage in shots and four power play opportunities, Randolph was unable to capitalize as it finished with a scoreless tie against Summit at Aspen Ice in Randolph.
“I thought we played a pretty good game,” Randolph goalie Gavin Einfeldt, who finished with a 17-save shutout, said. “Defensively, we were pretty good, we put up 40 shots and four power plays, but at the end of the day we have to bury one. We’re going to run into hot goaltenders like Nikita (Pryymak). Props to him, he played a hell of a game. We just have to be better and find a way to get one. It’s going to be the dirty goals that count.”
Randolph- as the shot tally would indicate- spent a good chunk of the game in the offensive zone, applying pressure as it tried to find a difference-making goal. But Summit’s defense did a solid job of marking up front and allowed very few rebound opportunities. Perhaps the team’s best opportunity came with just over seven minutes left in the game, when a pass from along the boards went to James Mattson in the slot- who ripped it right off the crossbar, just inches away from the all-elusive goal.
Even on the man-advantage- while Randolph controlled possession- it had a difficult time getting shots through Summit’s defense.
“We had our chances. They did too. It was a good game, they’ve got a good team,” Randolph coach Rich McLaughlin said. “They’ve got some guys who can play. We had a lot of chances, but our power play let us down a little bit. We should’ve had more chances than we did. Our power play didn’t work well tonight, and give (Summit) credit- they forced us to do things we didn’t want to do.”
It was a major mid-season test for Randolph, as it went up against the two-time defending Public C champions in Summit. While it already has a difficult schedule while playing in the always-competitive Mennen Division, a game like this is something the Rams hope will prepare it as the games continue to grow in importance down the stretch.
“You don’t want to look too far ahead, but you hope to make the playoffs, and you hope to see games like this coming up in the next month-and-a-half or so,” McLaughlin said. “If we want to win around here- and our goal right now is to get to the state playoffs and if we get in, we want to win- we have to beat good teams. Summit’s one of them. It’s a good non-conference game where we don’t have to worry about seeing each other again, and it works out well for both teams.”
Randolph currently holds a 10-2-2 record, with its only losses coming to Princeton Day and Morristown-Beard. As they always are, the expectations were high for this group that is searching for its first state championship since 2014-15, and are even higher after returning almost its entire roster from last year, where the team fell short against Ridge in the Public B final.
And while Wednesday’s game was a nice test for the team, it knows it missed out on some opportunities and will need to find a way to win these types of games down the stretch, rather than tie.
“I think we’re happy with where we are. But I don’t think we’re totally satisfied,” Einfeldt said. “A game like Morristown-Beard, that’s a game we think we should’ve had. A lot of games are closer than we think they should be. When you run into a team like Summit, you can’t walk out of here with ties, you have to walk out of here with wins, because beating up on other teams is going to help us win a game like that.”
Einfeldt added: “Everyone who was here last year knows the feeling of the loss, and for some guys its two losses (in the state final). It sucks. It really does. Coming so close, especially last year- we were so slept on- but everyone who was returning knows what it’s like. This entire offseason was hard work and grinding, and that’s all we had on our minds. The younger guys weren’t there but I think a lot of them were at the game watching and they want it just as bad as we do.”
Shots on goal: Randolph 39, Summit 17
Saves: Gavin Einfeldt (Randolph) 17, Nikita Pryymak (Summit) 39