By Mike Gurnis
MORRIS TWP. — Tommy Matthews, D.J. Layden, and the rest of Morristown-Beard’s senior class have been waiting for this moment.
As freshmen, they were part of a squad that completed a four-peat in the Mennen Cup in 2017. But as they learned the past two seasons, this is one of the hardest cup titles to win, and they fell short of the five-peat in the 2018 final, before losing in the semifinals during a below .500 season last year.
The 2019-20 season has been a redemption tour of sorts for the Crimson, who have reestablished itself as one of the premier programs in Morris County and the state. Morristown-Beard, the top seed, capped it all off with the Mennen Cup title on Saturday evening with a 5-1 win over second seed Randolph in the final at Mennen Arena.
It marked Morristown-Beard’s 12th Mennen Cup title. Tommy Matthews netted two goals with an assist, while goaltender Luke McManus turned aside 26 of the 27 shots he faced.
“It’s something that words can’t explain,” senior defenseman D.J. Layden said. “Our first year, nerves were there for me being a little freshman. We won and it was the best feeling. Obviously the last two years we didn’t get what we wanted, but it just makes it so much more surreal that we won it this year. Especially being a senior. I knew from the start this was going to be a good year before everyone came. The whole coaching staff helped us out. We just all came together after those first two losses at the beginning of the year and we’ve been rolling ever since. It feels amazing.”
It all came down to Morristown-Beard’s ability to be opportunistic in this game. Randolph controlled most of the possession and out-shot the Crimson, 27-17 in the game. The first period saw just nine combined shots from the two squads, but Morristown-Beard struck first early as Hollis Humphries’ pass from behind the net found Nick Vantassell in front who put it home.
Then, the pace picked up in the second period. Tommy Matthews buried the first of his two goals 2:55 into the period off a shot from the slot. Just 16 seconds later, Matthews fed Humphries in front to make it a three-goal advantage.
“Hollis (Humphries), my linemate, has been doing incredible,” Matthews said. “We have Nick (Vantassell) and Andrew Low that have all stepped up big time.”
Matthews added, “This is so amazing. Last time we were here and won I was a freshman. We wanted to get back here and win it and make up for last season. We just really took it to them. This is the whole season.”
Randolph got right back into it 14 seconds later when J.T. Zangara scored to cut it to 3-1. Regardless, Morristown-Beard had a two-goal advantage and thanks to the strong play of McManus, it did not allow a goal the rest of the game. The Crimson added two more goals, as Jake Ochab and Matthews Each scored to bring the Mennen Cup back to Morristown-Beard.
“That was impressive,” McManus said of his team’s offensive onslaught in the second period. “Sparked a lot of momentum. It was definitely helpful, coming off of only four shots in the first. Just getting some momentum going into the second really helped.”
McManus is one of three goalies on Morristown-Beard’s roster that have rotated playing time, along with Chili Connell and Paul Detre. But coach Scott Greene opted to go with the hot hand in this one, after posting a victory over Northern Highlands last week as well as a shutout over Chatham in the semifinals.
“Luke was great for us, very solid,” Greene said. “Randolph played a strong game, 5-1 was definitely not an indication of the play of the game as you guys saw there. I think they outshot us as well. He came up big with a lot of big, timely saves. For him, we had three goalies who play well. We kind of went with the hot hand and he’s really stepped up big for us in a few games this year, particularly this game.”
Layden added: “Luke McManus played amazing. We saw potential in all three of our goalies. All three of them could’ve done it tonight, but Luke just played outstanding. We’re so happy he’s with us this year. We’re looking forward to having him for another year.”
Morristown-Beard will continue its season next week in the Non-Public state tournament, where it is seeded eighth and will face ninth seed St. Joseph of Montvale on Wednesday at 5:45 p.m. at Mennen Arena.
But no matter what happens in the state tournament, the Mennen Cup is back with Morristown-Beard, a year after missing the final for the first time in five years.
“Amazing. It’s the best feeling in the world,” Layden said. “I get to celebrate with my best friends, my family especially. I couldn’t have done it without my mom and dad. I want to thank them, my family is here, so it’s the best feeling in the world.”
MB — Nick Vantassell (Hollis Humphries) 8:45
MB — Tommy Matthews (Hollis Humphries) 12:05
MB — Hollis Humphries (Tommy Matthews) 11:49
RAN — J.T. Zangara (Ray McNamara, Nick Gallo) 11:35
MB — Jake Ochab (Nick Vantassell, Noah Jones) 5:02
MB — Tommy Matthews (Cam Fernandez) 12:35
Shots on goal: Randolph 27, Morristown-Beard 17