By Mike Gurnis
MORRIS TWP. — Randolph goaltender Connor Thomas made it very clear in the opening period of Tuesday night’s season opener with Morris Knolls-Hills that getting a puck past him was going to be a very tall task.
Morris Knolls-Hills put 14 shots on him in the first period, and despite controlling play, had nothing to show for it on the scoreboard.
Any hopes that a young Randolph squad had of stealing a win behind its goaltender, however, were quickly squashed in the second period. Luke Dickerson scored 33 seconds into the middle frame, leading to a three-goal period as Morris Knolls-Hills topped Randolph, 3-0 at Mennen Arena.
“Coach just said that (Thomas) is going down a lot,” Dickerson, a sophomore, said. “We just had to really look to shoot above the shoulders, shoot high. Low blocker, just get dirty goals and get goals in front of the net.”
Dickerson took the feed from senior captain Kyle Thornton, as he ripped home a shot from the left circle to give his team the lead. Just over six minues later, Ryan Walter’s shot from the point found its way home to make it a two-goal advantage.
Then, with 16 seconds to go in the period, Morris Knolls-Hills capitalized on the first power play for either team when Thornton took a shot from a sharp angle which beat Thomas, giving his team a commanding 3-0 lead.
Morris Knolls-Hills’ top line of Thornton, Dickerson, and freshman Jake McCloud showed some early-season chemistry throughout the game, creating several scoring chances and directly contributing to two of the team’s three goals.
“It’s been coming along during practice,” Thornton said. “The more time we spend together, the better it gets. We’re starting to feel each other out and find each other in spots, and we’re starting to contribute.”
In total, Morris Knolls-Hills out-shot Randolph 31-12 for the game and spent most of the time in the offensive zone. And whenever Randolph gained the zone, Morris Knolls’ defense, spearheaded by its top pairing of Dante Tironi and Bryan McCarter, made sure nothing got through to goaltender Aidan Marvin, who stopped all 12 shots he faced to pick up his first career shutout.
“We were all just crashing to the middle of the net and lifting up sticks and making sure they don’t get those rebounds,” Dickerson said. “We pushed the puck to the corner and got pucks out.”
It marked Morris Knolls-Hills’ third-straight win over Randolph, after defeating it by identical scores of 4-1 both in the regular season as well as the Mennen Cup semifinals last season.
“It’s opening night and it’s our biggest rival by far, so to get a whole team performance from start to finish was pretty awesome, including in the net from Aidan,” Thornton said. “It’s really good to know you only have to put in one, but we put some pucks in the net so that was good to give us some insurance.”
Thomas, a junior, was making his first career start for Randolph and turned aside 28 of the 31 shots he faced.
FANS MAKE THEIR RETURN
Anyone who spent time at Mennen Arena last winter when crowds were originally non-existent due to COVID-19 restrictions, before opening up to just parents, will tell you that there just wasn’t much of an atmosphere at the games.
This year, with restrictions lifted, the difference in the atmosphere of the game was remarkable. A walk through the lobby of Mennen Arena about 15 minutes before puck drop showed hordes of parents and students waiting to get into the rink.
Both teams had large showings from their student sections, a huge part of the high school hockey that was missed last year, especially in a rivalry game such as this one.
It especially meant something to sophomore Luke Dickerson, who as a freshman did not get to experience this type of crowd.
“It’s just amazing,” Dickerson said. “It’s my first year with the fans so after the first goals and big hits it really gets you going.”
First star: Kyle Thornton, Morris Knolls-Hills: 1G, 1A
Second star: Luke Dickerson, Morris Knolls-Hills: Game-winning goal.
Third star: Connor Thomas, Randolph: Stopped 28 of 31 shots and kept his team in the game.
MKH– Luke Dickerson (Kyle Thornton) 0:29
MKH– Ryan Walter (Matt Kuglin, Graham Leonard) 5:37
MKH– Kyle Thornton PPG 14:44
Shots on goal: Morris Knolls-Hills 31, Randolph 12.
Saves: Connor Thomas (Randolph) 28, Aidan Marvin (Morris Knolls-Hills) 12.
Team records: Morris Knolls-Hills 1-0, Randolph 0-1.
E-mail Mike Gurnis at firstname.lastname@example.org