By Mike Gurnis
NEWARK — All it took was 35 seconds to turn Randolph’s potential celebration into desperation.
The Rams held a seemingly-comfortable two-goal lead late in the third period, and it appeared the celebration was about to begin on the Randolph side of the Prudential Center.
But Ridge threw a wrench into Randolph’s celebratory plans. It scored twice in 35 seconds to tie the game, shocking Randolph’s bench and nearly everyone in attendance.
Ridge controlled play from there, even into the first few minutes of overtime. But Randolph needed just one shot to end it- and that’s exactly what happened.
J.T. Zangara put home a rebound of a Ben Yurchuk shot 4:30 into overtime to avert disaster and give top seed Randolph a 3-2 win over third seed Ridge in the NJSIAA Public B final at Newark’s Prudential Center.
“Ridge is a great team. They came out strong in the last five minutes of the game and then overtime,” Zangara said. “Ben Yurchuk is a phenomenal player. He just tossed it in front and I was able to put in the rebound. It’s all memories from there.
Zangara added, “It’s a great feeling, but the only important thing is the W on the board. We came out, we had a mindset to win this game. It was a revenge tour since last year when we lost to Ridge. We’ve been talking about this game since March 4 (of last year). It was a big game for us and we’ve been talking about this forever. We came out flying.”
It marked Randolph’s first state title since 2015 and ninth overall, and broke a five-year title drought, which was its longest such span without a title since winning its first state title in 2003.
Randolph built a two-goal lead on a pair of highlight-reel goals by Zangara. The first was a shorthanded goal with 7:14 to go in the second, which saw the senior take a pass from Yurchuk to split between two defenders to give his team the lead.
Then, he scored 5:58 into the third after making a move from the right side of the net to the front to make it a two-goal advantage.
“It’s really cool. It’s a lot of fun,” Zangara said. “A lot of my teammates have been feeding me pucks and this game Ben Yurchuk had three assists. With him, I was able to finish pucks. They fed me and I just fired them.”
Goalie Gavin Einfeldt said of Zangara, “He’s a great player and you know he’s going to come up big when you need him. If you give him the opportunities and you give him the space, he’s going to get to work and he’s going to bury a few. He’s an excellent player and the best players shine in the biggest moment and he clearly just did that.”
Einfeldt had gone 177:23 of the state tournament without surrendering a single goal, and was that close to closing the book on a perfect state tournament. But thanks to goals by Reese Judson and Matt Balzarotti in that 35 second span, Randolph suddenly found itself in a tie game.
“We all wanted it so bad,” Einfeldt said. “A couple shifts off really hurt us there and we knew that we weren’t going to be defined by two shifts. We were going to be defined by the whole game. We were the better team all game so we were going to prove that on the scoresheet and prove that with a trophy.”
And thanks to Einfeldt’s performance after those two goals, Randolph has a trophy to show for it. Ridge out-shot Randolph 5-0 in the opening minutes of overtime, and it seemed like it was just a matter of time before it finished it off.
But Yurchuk, a freshman, threw the puck at the net from the left circle, and Zangara was right there to clean up the rebound, sending the Randolph faithful into a frenzy.
“It was rough in the beginning but when we came into the locker room we decided to get back on track,” Zangara said. “We talked about how we’ve been dreaming about this moment since we were kids. When we walked in and got back on the ice we just brought it back to calm hockey and tried to take momentum back.”
It was all the more sweeter for Randolph’s seniors, such as Zangara and Einfeldt, who took advantage of the opportunity to close out their careers with their first title.
“Going into high school we wanted to win every single year, obviously, and we could win every year,” Einfeldt said. “Freshman year, we lost to them in the semifinals. Sophomore we lost to Northern Highlands and last year we lost to Ridge. A win is a win.
“We would’ve loved to win a couple more but it just makes it so much sweeter to end your senior season with a win like that. You literally couldn’t have written a better ending.”
RAN — J.T. Zangara (Ben Yurchuk) 7:14 SHG
RAN — J.T. Zangara 9:02
RID — Reese Judson (Eric Schubert, Tyler Ebeling) 2:37
RID — Matt Balzarotti (Nick DelGaizo, Eric Schubert) 2:05
RAN — J.T. Zangara (Ben Yurchuk) 10:30
Shots on goal: Ridge 32, Randolph 28
Saves: Marcus Fabiunke (Ridge) 29, Gavin Einfeldt (Randolph) 30