By Mike Gurnis
RANDOLPH — When Randolph needed a spark, Zach Gallo came to the rescue.
After the Rams built a 5-0 lead early in the second period, it appeared it was well on its way to advancing in the state tournament with ease. But Princeton did the unthinkable, scoring five goals in a span of 5:13 to tie the game, putting a Randolph team on its heels which has historically shut teams down once getting the lead.
But junior Zach Gallo came through with a big goal in the final minute of the second period to give his team the lead for good, and the eighth-seeded Rams went on to score two more in the third to put it away in an 8-5 win over ninth-seeded Princeton in the first round of the NJSIAA Public B tournament at SportsCare Arena.
Gallo finished with a hat trick and two assists, which included a first period goal to make it a 3-0 game, before scoring the final goal with 5:33 to go in the third period to essentially seal it.
After missing the first month of the season, Gallo’s return has been a welcome one for an extremely young Randolph team. He has posted 11 goals and 17 assists in 14 games, and Randolph has gone 8-2-3 since his return after starting the year 2-4.
“He’s been a big boost, because he’s a presence out there,” Randolph coach Rich McLaughlin said. “He’s somebody that everyone has to watch. He’s on our power play at the top and he controls our power play for us. He can shoot the puck and he can skate with everybody. He’s a special player, which we didn’t have before (he returned). Like I said, we don’t have a lot of older guys, and he’s an older guy.”
Ethan Mueller scored twice, with Jack Barry, Andrew George, and Gallo each netting a goal to give Randolph a 5-0 lead 4:01 into the second period. It appeared Randolph was going to cruise to victory at that point, but just as quickly as Randolph took control, it slipped away.
Cooper Zullo scored just 16 seconds after the last Randolph goal to get Princeton on the board, before Zullo set up John O’Donnell 57 seconds later to make it 5-2. Zullo scored again with 8:20 left, before Ethan Garlock and Zullo each scored to tie the game up.
In total, Princeton scored five goals in a span of 5:13 to tie the game up. Randolph has been known over the years for relying on its defense to win 1-0, 2-1 type games in the state tournament. But this year’s group has just two players remaining- Zach Gallo and Jordan Cross- from its state championship team in 2019-20, and may have learned a very valuable lesson in protecting a lead in a playoff game.
“They forgot there was still another second half of the game to go,” McLaughlin said. “One goes (in), and the snowball turned the other way and we couldn’t stop it. We just couldn’t get out of our own way, and sure enough they got five goals on us. That’s the first time ever that we’ve done that. It is what it is.”
Once Gallo gave Randolph the lead back in the final minute of the second period, Randolph appeared to settle down and played the strong type of defensive game that it needs to in order to close out a state tournament game.
“We just wanted to play more defense, because they were coming out strong,” Gallo said. “They had more confidence, just like putting a couple in real fast, we just needed to take a step back and play defense and then figure out our offense as we go.”
Randolph will have a lengthy layoff before playing its quarterfinal round game, which will likely be next Monday. It will take on the winner of top-seeded Northern Highlands and 17th-seeded Vernon, which will be played later this week after Vernon’s 7-6 win over Scotch Plains-Fanwood on Tuesday.
If Northern Highlands wins, it would set up a rematch of a meeting from Jan. 21, which was a 3-1 win for Northern Highlands.
“They’re really good,” McLaughlin said. “They have three strong lines, a goaltender, four defensemen…they’re loaded. They can really move. We’re going to have to play out of our minds come Monday.”
Gallo added, “We need to play our game. We really just need to come out strong. It means a lot for some of the seniors, it could be the last time putting on a Randolph hockey jersey. They just need to play their game.”
RAN — Ethan Mueller (Zach Gallo, Jase Zangara) 14:21
RAN — Jack Barry 4:25
RAN — Zach Gallo (Jase Zangara, Jacob Campbell) 3:33
RAN — Andrew George (Jase Zangara) 11:20
RAN — Ethan Mueller (Zach Gallo, Jordan Cross) 10:59
PRIN– Cooper Zullo 10:43
PRIN– John O’Donnell (Cooper Zullo) 9:46
PRIN– Cooper Zullo (John Zammitt, Ethan Garlock) 8:20
PRIN– Ethan Garlock (Cooper Zullo, John O’Donnell) 6:02
PRIN– Cooper Zullo (Ethan Garlock, John Zammitt) 5:30
RAN — Zach Gallo 0:36
RAN — Jacob Campbell 8:26
RAN — Zach Gallo (Ethan Mueller, Brian Cislo) 5:33
Shots on goal: Randolph 44, Princeton 24
Saves: Nico Vitaro (Princeton) 36, Connor Thomas (Randolph) 19
Team records: Randolph 10-6-3, Princeton 16-5-3