By Mike Gurnis
MORRIS TWP. — The final minutes of the third period have been an achilles heel for Morris Knolls-Hills in the opening part of the season.
It saw a one-goal lead turn into a buzzer-beating loss against Chatham on Jan. 22, and then just two days ago it surrendered the tying goal to Randolph late in the third period.
But on Friday night, Morris Knolls-Hills did something in the third period that it wasn’t able to do in its previous two games- get insurance goals and put the game away. Thanks to a two-goal performance from senior Dylan Idland and a key shorthanded goal from Jake DiLoreto, Knolls-Hills earned a 4-1 win over Randolph at Mennen Arena.
It marked the first win for Morris Knolls-Hills over its rival in its last eight tries- with its last win over Randolph coming in the Mennen Cup semifinals in 2017. In that span, it went 0-4-4, with its last three games ending in ties, including Wednesday’s 5-5 draw.
“It’s everything. We haven’t beat them in four years, or at least since I’ve been here, so it’s amazing,” DiLoreto said. “It’d be a lot nicer if we had fans, obviously. But as a team, being together and experiencing this, it’s awesome. It means a lot for us in the games going forward.”
With the score knotted up at one in the second period, Dylan Idland broke the tie as he found the back of the net from the top of the slot, and that lead held up going into the third period.
But shortly after the third period began, Morris Knolls-Hills was called for a penalty. Just two days earlier, penalties- and the penalty kill- cost it a chance at a win, as it took five penalties and surrendered three power play goals.
The narrative was different this time, though. It surrendered very few quality scoring opportunities, and even found a way to capitalize as Jake DiLoreto scored on a shorthanded breakaway to extend the lead to two.
“I think we were just more disciplined,” DiLoreto said of the team’s penalty kill, which killed off both of its penalties in the game. “We had lock-down defense. We stayed tight in the zone, and a key player, Danny Driesbach, he was good back there. He was there when we needed him. As a whole team, we were very good tonight.”
Just over two minutes later, Idland capped the scoring on a shot from the left circle. From that point on, Knolls-Hills locked the game down, and finished off an important win.
“The key to this game was not taking that many penalties,” Idland said. “Because last game, that’s what lost us the game. Most of their goals were power play goals, so this game we only took one penalty and didn’t give up a power play goal, so we just kept playing defense the way we were told and we came out with the win.”
Morris Knolls-Hills coach Tim Kepler added, “That’s exactly what we talked about between the second and third. I said our game awareness has to be there. We’re giving up goals in the last minute of the game, and it’s not only costing us winning games, it’s costing us losing games and tying games. We have to be more disciplined. We just have to bear down and play the game, and be smart about it. They put the effort in tonight.”
Morris Knolls-Hills now stands at 2-1-1 through four games this season, and will take on Wayne on Saturday night. And while it’s talented group of seniors have experienced the highest of highs in winning back-to-back Public A state championships, it will now be able to lay claim to a win over its biggest rival.
— This was a completely different game than the one we saw two nights ago. Wednesday’s game was a back-and-forth game where both teams had a solid amount of power play time. While the first period was fast-paced like it was on Wednesday, the game seemed to settle down during the second and third period. There were only two penalties called- both on Morris Knolls-Hills.
— Dylan Idland has had a terrific start to the season, with five goals in four games- including two tonight. Morris Knolls-Hills coach Tim Kepler said of Idland: “He’s on fire right now. He always has a way to get pucks in the net. He’s always been a good goal-scorer. When he plays with confidence, he puts the puck in the net. That’s something that we need out of him. We’ve been working on that for four years, and it looks like it’s starting to come together here. He’s playing with a bit more confidence and things are going the right way for him, which is good for him and for us, obviously.”
— In a season full of postponements and uncertainty, it was unclear when we’d finally get to see these two teams play. They had originally been scheduled to play on opening night before Randolph was shut down due to COVID concerns, and ultimately it ended with the teams playing a “home-and-home” this week. Kepler said: “This was something that (the players) circled on the calendar at the very beginning of the year before it was postponed, and then it got circled again, and circled again. It means a lot to them. Most of those guys play club together. They’re best buddies. They battle it out here, but a lot of them are very good buddies with each other.”
First star: Dylan Idland, Morris Knolls-Hills- 2 goals
Second star: Jake DiLoreto, Morris Knolls-Hills- key shorthanded goal in the third period
Third star: Andrew Ryan, Morris Knolls-Hills- game’s opening goal
MKH — Andrew Ryan (Gehrig Eckoff, Luke Dickerson) 12:51
RAN — Ben Yurchuk (Nick Gaynor) 0:32
MKH — Dylan Idland (Ryan Murcer, J.D. Florio) 5:05
MKH — Jake DiLoreto 12:59 SHG
MKH — Dylan Idland (Tim Kepler) 10:06
Shots on goal: Morris Knolls-Hills 28, Randolph 16
Saves: Joe Yutsus (Randolph) 24, Aidan Marvin (Morris Knolls-Hills) 15