By Mike Gurnis
MORRIS TWP. — Morristown is a team that feels it has something to prove in 2021-22.
The Colonials, after spending the last nine years in the MCSSIHL’s Mennen Division, the league’s top division, dropped down to the Halvorsen Division after going 0-4-1 in divisional play last season.
But with the vast majority of its roster back from last year, including an 11-man senior class, Morristown has its sights set on returning the program to the type of level it last experienced when it won the Public B state championship in 2015-16.
It took the first step on Friday evening, as it downed a very strong Mendham squad, 4-1 in the team’s first Halvorsen game in a decade at Mennen Arena.
“The past three years we really haven’t done that well,” said senior Francis Zaklukiewicz. “We fell off in the standings. Since we dropped down to the Halvorsen, we’ve really worked even harder just to make sure we get back to winning and eventually go for a cup. That’s what we’re looking for.”
Zaklukiewicz, a senior who played defense last year before getting moved up to forward this season, had a big role in the win. He gave his team the lead with 1:33 to go in the first period, before setting up his teammates Liam Wilson and Jack Langan for a pair of goals 19 seconds apart in the opening minutes of the second period to build a 3-0 advantage.
“Really we just got that extra boost,” Zaklukiewicz said of the two-goal outburst. “That’s all it is. We just had that momentum coming our way, we got that first one and we just kept going at it. We beat them on the forecheck and it just worked out.”
Morristown coach Bobby Jones added of Zaklukiewicz, “He looks great out there. You can see he’s a workhorse, he goes up and down the ice. His stride length is just absolutely insane for a high school kid. He’s working up and down the ice. He’s a good 200-foot player. Once he really starts fine-tuning his game, he’s going to be unstoppable.”
It held that lead into the third period, before Mendham’s E.J. Gleie finished off a one-time feed from Tristan Aikenhead to cut it to 3-1 with 10:49 to go. Morristown then had to deal with a bit of adversity later in the period, when it was called for a five-minute major for boarding. It only needed to kill about half of that penalty due to a penalty by Mendham, but thanks to its strong defensive play along with some timely stops by senior goalie Dylan Peck, Morristown was able to pull out the win.
“I think it was the hard work during practice and just the heart in coming to the game,” Peck said. “We were all very excited and very well-fit for the game after all the practices we’ve had.”
Peck added, “Just staying focused and keeping our heads in the game and not letting the other team get in our heads. After all the big hits and them chirping us, we kept our head in the game and just kept pushing through.”
In total, Morristown has won its first two games, after a 7-3 win over Madison on Sunday, before taking its first division game. The program has experienced its share of struggles in recent years, especially last season in which it went through three separate COVID-19 related shutdowns, and was unable to gain much traction in the Mennen Division. Its final shutdown came right before the Mennen Cup.
“These kids are grateful for the opportunity,” Jones said. “I think the pressure is off and we’re trying to get back to learning how to win games, and learning how to manage a crowd. This is the first time that we’ve played in front of a crowd. Obviously, everyone wants to root for a winning team. We’re hopeful that we’re learning how to win games, learning how to win big games, learning how to win league games, and hopefully learning how to win cup games and state games.”
Zaklukiewicz added, “We have everyone doubting us. Everyone’s thinking we can’t make it. The past three years we just haven’t been that good, so we just have to prove everyone wrong.”
First star: Francis Zaklukiewicz, Morristown- 1G, 2A
Second star: Dylan Peck, Morristown- 21 saves
Third star: Jack Langan, Morristown 1G, 1A
MOR– Francis Zaklukiewicz 1:33
MOR– Liam Wilson (Francis Zaklukiewicz, Jack Langan) 13:30
MOR — Jack Langan (Francis Zaklukiewicz) 13:11
MEN — E.J. Gleie (Tristan Aikenhead) 10:49
MOR — Nick Romano (Harry Santen, Jackson Byrne) 1:45
Shots on goal: Morristown 24, Mendham 22
Saves: Dylan Peck (Morristown) 21, Gavin Thurn (Mendham) 21
Team records: Morristown 2-0 (1-0 Halvorsen), Mendham 0-1 (0-1 Halvorsen)
E-mail Mike Gurnis at email@example.com
Donate to the Morris-Sussex Hockey Report!
Support local written coverage of high school hockey in Morris and Sussex County with a one-time, $5 donation for the 2021-22 season.
You can also donate via Venmo: @mike-gurnis