Cup semifinal recap, Feb. 9: Knolls-Hills survives in OT; Morristown-Beard, Mount Olive prevail

By Mike Gurnis

Morris Knolls-Hills threw everything they could at Chatham goalie Michael Park.

Park, a senior, did everything in his power to propel his team to an upset victory, turning aside 46 of 49 shots. But in the end, it was Morris Knolls-Hills sophomore Jack Martinez who proved to be the hero, as his goal with 4:53 left in overtime helped top-seeded Knolls-Hills defeat fourth-seeded Chatham, 3-2 at Mennen Arena in the Mennen Cup semifinal.

Behind a first period goal from Martinez and a goal from Luke Dickerson late in the second period, Morris Knolls-Hills (13-6-1) led, 2-1 going into the third period, and appeared on its way to victory. But Chatham’s Dillon Gagliardi tied it up with 6:04 to go in the third period, and thanks to some key saves from Park, the game went to overtime.

Michael Simone made a back-hand shot on the goalie at the side of the net, which popped out to Martinez who ripped it top shelf to give his team the win.

“We got a shot on net and it popped out, I got the puck in the slot and I put it top right,” Martinez said. “I didn’t even know what was happening. I just went to the student section and started it off (the celebration), and now we’re going on to the finals.”

Danny Koehler also scored for Chatham, which dropped to 5-14-1 with the loss. This was the final game of the year for the Cougars, who will miss out on the state tournament.

There may not be a team in the area, or perhaps the state, that is hotter than Morristown-Beard right now.

The Crimson, seeded third in the Mennen Cup, picked up their fourth-consecutive win as it downed second-seeded Randolph, 5-1 in the Mennen Cup semifinal at Mennen Arena.

A big reason for the Crimson’s recent success has been the play of junior forward Hollis Humphries. During this four-game win streak, Humphries has recorded 15 points, including three games with four-or-more points. In Wednesday’s win, he was involved in all five of his team’s goals, scoring two and assisting on the other three.

Noah Jones, on the other hand, made the move from defense to forward at the start of this four-game win streak and has also produced spectacular results. Jones tallied two goals and two assists in the win over Randolph, and has seven goals and four assists since moving to forward.

“It’s been interesting because I was a little worried in putting them together that they’d try to do a little too much individually,” Morristown-Beard coach Scott Greene said. “But they’ve really used each other well, especially with Andrew (Low) on that line. They’ve been able to use each other’s strengths well to complement each other. We’re keeping it simple with those guys and it’s paying off, and they’re buying into it now that they see it.

“A lot of times early in the year we got in trouble because we would try to do it all ourselves and it just doesn’t work at this level. Just keeping it simple, trusting the process, and they’re seeing the results- they’re putting up four, five-point games. We just want two points at the end of the day, but it’s easier to buy into a system when you know it’s going to benefit you individually as well as for the team.”

Evan Jones also scored for Morristown-Beard (12-11-1), while Billy Moloney dished out two assists. Freshman goalie Casey Connor turned aside 31 of 32 shots, with a good chunk of those coming in the third period as Randolph made its push to get back in the game.

“He’s been fantastic,” Greene said. “They put a lot of pucks to the net looking for rebounds, and he was able to control those rebounds and put them to areas they couldn’t get to. He’s a focused kid, like I’ve said before. He’s focused, he’s determined, great work ethic. For a freshman to come out and perform in a game like that speaks a lot, and I think the team trusts him, and he trusts the team, so it’s a great relationship.”

Andrew George scored the lone goal for Randolph (8-6-3), which will turn its attention to the Public B state tournament now.

It’s been a tight battle each time Mount Olive-Hopatcong-Hackettstown and Park Regional have faced off this season.

The teams battled to a 1-1 tie on Jan. 10, before Mo-Ho-Ha pulled out a 1-0 win on Jan. 27. It proved to be more of the same in Wednesday’s Haas Cup semifinals, but Christian Hertzig recorded a goal and two assists to lift top-seeded Mo-Ho-Ha to a 3-0 win over fourth-seeded Park Regional at Mennen Arena.

Nick Gargiulo stopped all 24 shots he faced to record his second-straight shutout against Park Regional.

“Oh my God, insane saves,” Hertzig said of his goaltender. “This guy’s been going all year. He loves pucks. He always says that he loves getting shots up. He kept us in this game. Without him…his big saves led to offense the other way.”

Hertzig scored the game’s opening goal, before Frank Diloreto made it a 2-0 game before the end of the first period. Mo-Ho-Ha had a big opportunity to add to the lead, when Park was called for a five-minute major towards the end of the first period.

But it had a hard time getting going on the power play, and even surrendered a shorthanded breakaway to the always-dangerous Eddie Karpinski. But Gargiulo came up with the save to preserve the lead, and made several big saves like that throughout the night to keep his team in the lead.

“I was just focused every single time,” Gargiulo said. “I was ready to beat them, and I really wanted to beat them. Our team had a lot of energy.

Gargiulo added, “Whenever someone’s coming down on you on a breakaway…sure it seems nerve-wracking, but I just completely forget about it all. All I do is I come out, face him, give him no room, and I just wait for him to come to me. There’s not really much of a thought process.”

Ethan Tillery scored with 21 seconds left in the second period to make it a 3-0 game. Now, Mo-Ho-Ha will move on to the Haas Cup final for the second year in a row, a year after losing a heartbreaking game in overtime to Mountain Lakes-Boonton. It hasn’t forgotten the feeling of losing that game, and this group has been motivated to get back since the start of the preseason.

“We’re all juniors- most of us- we have one senior, we’re heavy on the juniors,” Hertzig said. “It means so much to us today. We’ve been thinking about this game since the first practice, first dry land. We wake up at 5 a.m. every day to skate at Aspen, our practices are there. This just means so much to us and we’re ready to re-write history, and we’re planning to do it.”

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