By Mike Gurnis
MORRIS TWP. — Just eight days ago, Morristown skated off the ice of Mennen Arena knowing it had let an opportunity slip away.
The Colonials, which won the regular season Halvorsen Division title, were trounced, 4-0 by Mendham in the Halvorsen Cup title game last Wednesday night. It has been on the minds of Morristown players since then, and in its state tournament opener on Thursday night, it played like a team that couldn’t wait to erase the memory of that game and get back on the ice.
“We went into (the Halvorsen final) knowing that we really had potential to win that game, but we really let it slip away,” senior captain Harry Santen said. “I think at this point we can’t really be down about it, we just have to use it as motivation for states, kind of just battle through and not dwell on it but keep it in the back of our minds so that we have motivation for states. Because we really don’t want that feeling again.”
Morristown, the eighth seed, came out strong right from the very beginning and got a goal from Jack McKenna 2:20 into the game. It never looked back the rest of the way, as it skated to a 4-0 victory over ninth-seeded Watchung Hills in the first round NJSIAA Public A Tournament at Mennen Arena.
Harry Santen and Nick Romano each recorded a goal and an assist for Morristown, with Francis Zaklukiewicz also scoring a goal. Dylan Peck turned aside all 22 shots he faced to secure his fifth shutout of the season.
“We kind of realized that the team with the most energy at the beginning of the game, the team making the first play to the puck, the team making the first hit was going to score and ultimately win the entire game,” Santen said. “We kind of kept that in mind and we honestly learned from the way Mendham came out against us and we used it against Watching.”
It was only fitting that each player that had a major role on the scoresheet for Morristown in this game was a senior. Morristown’s 11-player senior class have been through their share of ups and downs over the last four years, beginning with a 2-16-4 record as freshmen, followed by a 10-11-4 record as sophomores before going 2-5-2 in last winter’s COVID-shortened season.
Those players got to experience winning a state tournament game for the first time on Thursday night. Morristown lost, 1-0 to Gov. Livingston in the first round of the Public B tournament when this group of seniors were in their sophomore campaigns.
Now, it will look to advance even further in the tournament, as it looks ahead to Monday’s quarterfinal matchup against the winner between top-seeded Livingston and 16th-seeded Bayonne, which is slated for tomorrow.
“I just think we have to go into it confident,” Santen said. “It’s a great feeling to win this game, but there’s a lot of hockey left. It’s not over. We just have to push through and just know the kind of team we are. Just come together, especially with our senior group, and just push through here and just honestly work our tails off and hope for the best.”
MOR — Jack McKenna (Nick Romano) 12:40
MOR — Nick Romano (Harry Santen) 3:07
MOR — Francis Zaklukiewicz 0:09
MOR — Harry Santen 1:15 ENG
Shots on goal: Morristown 26, Watchung Hills 22
Saves: Dylan Peck (Morristown) 22, Jackson Gottlick (Watchung Hills) 22
Team records: Morristown 15-5-3, Watchung Hills 7-14-3