By Mike Gurnis
Morristown’s top line of Francis Zaklukiewicz, Jack McKenna, and Liam Wilson has been working to rebuild its chemistry after McKenna made his return to the lineup recently after missing roughly a month-and-a-half of action.
On Friday night in the team’s biggest game of the season thus far, that trio was at the forefront for Morristown, as they were involved in all four goals as top-seeded Morristown defeated fourth-seeded Kinnelon-Jefferson-Sparta, 4-1 in the Halvorsen Cup semifinals at Mennen Arena.
Zaklukiewicz was the primary beneficiary of his line’s dominant play. With his team trailing 1-0 after the first period, the senior put together a natural hat trick in the second period to give his team a commanding two-goal lead.
“Even in the beginning of the year, we’ve been working on our chemistry and building it together,” Zaklukiewicz said. “(It’s) always knowing that if we’re playing together, we’ve got to depend on each other to be in the right spots and feed each other the puck. With Jack getting hurt in the middle of the year, we had to rebuild that chemistry when he got back. With him getting back, we all put our heads down and started working together as a unit, and today it really paid off.
“We all came together, we all were talking before the game about how this is our game, we have to shine, we have to work hard. It just paid off. We knew we had to score, and we did.”
Wilson buried the other goal for Morristown, which came halfway through the third period. He finished with a goal and two assists, while McKenna had three primary assists for the Colonials.
“We’ve had (McKenna) out for a lot of the season,” Wilson said. “Honestly he’s a huge help for me and Francis, he’s always finding us, he’s always finding the player in the right spot. Today we had good vision, we were looking for each other and we’ve been working on our chemistry in practice every day. We were just clicking today.”
KJS United has given Morristown fits this season, with Morristown winning the first meeting 2-0 before the teams skated to a 1-1 tie just a few weeks ago. It jumped ahead with 3:22 left in the first period on Adam Stefancik’s goal, and the pressure was building on the favored Colonials, despite it holding a 17-4 shot advantage in the first period.
It came out flying in the second period, with Zaklukiewicz scoring 2:02 into the period before scoring twice in the final 1:26 of the second to take full control of the game.
“We were down 1-0, and I feel like that kind of lit a fire under us,” Wilson said. “We had to come out hard. We already tied these guys earlier this season and we knew we couldn’t lose to them again. We just came out firing. Francis, obviously, came out on fire and put in three for us which is huge.”
Dylan Peck stopped 13 of 14 shots for Morristown, while KJS United goalie Rylan Gibbons made 43 saves.
Morristown now moves on to Wednesday’s Halvorsen Cup final, where it will take on second-seeded Mendham at 5:45 p.m. It will be Morristown’s first Cup final appearance since winning the Halvorsen Cup, 6-0 over West Morris in 2011-12.
“It’s huge. We haven’t really played in a championship game in a long time,” Zaklukiewicz said. “But the job’s not finished. We all know there’s a lot more left to get done here. The Halvorsen championship, yeah, it’s one of our goals this year, but it’s not the final goal. We still have a lot more we want to accomplish and this is just one step on the way.”
BERNARDS-SOMERVILLE-MIDDLESEX ERUPTS IN SECOND PERIOD
When Morris Catholic-St. Elizabeth’s Aidan Dominick scored a shorthanded goal 1:36 into the second period, it felt as if momentum was swinging in the direction of the Crusaders after falling behind, 3-0 in the first period.
But as quickly as that flame seemed to ignite for Morris Catholic, Bernards-Somerville-Middlesex poured a gallon of cold water on it.
Bernards-Somerville-Middlesex proceeded to score five goals in a span of four minutes to put the game well out of reach, as the top seed rolled to an 11-1 win over fourth-seed Morris Catholic in the Charette Cup semifinals.
“We were playing a little bit laid back on the power play,” sophomore Jimmy Hathaway said. “I made a lazy play to Gallagher, just a little turnover and they capitalized. Just from there, we bounced back. We set the pace early in the first so we knew we were in control of the game, so we just capitalized on our opportunities after that.”
Hathaway finished with four goals and an assist, including two goals during that stretch in the second period which put the game out of reach. Tanner Clemson added two goals and two assists, Aidan Gallagher had a goal and two assists, while Ryan Leonard and Taylor Favreau each had a goal and an assist. Andrew Doherty and Cam Jelinek each scored with Dylan Leonard and Justin Gordon each dishing out two assists.
Bernards out-shot Morris Catholic, 52-5 in the game. It was another dominant performance for the highest-scoring team in the MCSSIHL, which features six players with 20 or more points.
“Once we get going, no team can really stop us,” Hathaway said. “We’re a really tight group and we just love to have fun out there.”
The win clinched Bernards’ spot in the Charette Cup final for the second-straight year after winning the inaugural Charette title last winter against Newton-Lenape Valley. This time around, it will take on third-seeded High Point-Wallkill Valley-Kittatinny on Wednesday at 7:45 p.m.
“I’m proud of all the boys. We were intense all season,” Hathaway said. “The compete level was there, and we’re happy to be back. We have (the final) Wednesday, and that’s just what’s on our minds right now. We’re not really worrying about this win, and then state playoffs.”
Added Hathaway of what his team needs to do to win the title: “We just have to lay bodies and do the little things right. Block shots, get pucks deep and forecheck hard, and then capitalize on our opportunities and that’s really it.”