By Mike Gurnis
MORRIS TWP. — All it took was one play off of a face-off for Morris Knolls-Hills to tie it.
But Randolph had a face-off play of its own to win it.
Michael Simone of Morris Knolls-Hills tied the game up with 7:14 to go in the third, winning his own face-off before carrying the puck to the net, beating Randolph goalie Connor Thomas. In the final minute, with the game heading towards a seemingly inevitable tie, Randolph finally broke through for the lead.
With 26 seconds left, Jase Zangara picked up a puck after Zach Gallo tied up his defender on the draw, and Zangara made a power move to the front of the net to score, putting his team in the lead for good. It held up as the game-winner, as Randolph earned a key opening-night win over rival Morris Knolls-Hills at Mennen Arena.
“We wanted the puck,” Zangara said. “I saw the puck pop out and just went to the net. Zach Gallo did a good job tying him up, and it went in from there.”
It was Zangara’s second goal of the night, after scoring off a rebound with 3:46 to go in the second period to put Randolph ahead, 2-1.
The sophomore was Randolph’s leading scorer a year ago, breaking out with 19 goals and 16 assists. He has grown considerably since, adding to his physical frame, and that will allow him to do what he does best- score goals from close range.
“Jase sees the ice and he’s not afraid to go to the net and play with the big guys,” Randolph coach Rich McLaughlin said. “He’s going to get a lot of goals like he did tonight. He got two goals from a total of about five feet away. That’s what he does. He doesn’t score from 40 feet away, that’s his thing (scoring) around the net. And he loves doing it.”
Andrew George, another sophomore, put Randolph in the lead midway through the first period, before Morris Knolls-Hills’ Ryan Walter buried a goal on the power play to tie it up just 1:50 into the second period.
It was a back-and-forth game in one of the biggest rivalries in the state, but in the end, it was Randolph that came away victorious. It was Randolph’s first win over Morris Knolls-Hills since the 2018-19 season. The Rams were able to do so, despite an impressive performance in goal from Morris Knolls-Hills goalie Aidan Marvin, who stopped 32 of 35 shots.
“That’s huge, it’s been around four years (since it last beat Morris Knolls),” Randolph goalie Connor Thomas said. “This one was huge coming in to, so we’ll have to marinate the win here, after that we’re going to have to keep rolling since we have a couple of other hard games. Just have to do our job.”
It also appeared to be a bit of a return to form for the Rams. Last year, it went through a down year by its standards, as it went 10-7-3 and failed to reach the state semifinals for the first time in a very long time. It was a very young roster with several freshmen, but those freshmen, like Zangara and George are now sophomores with a year of experience under their belt.
“It’s harder,” Zangara said of adjusting to the high school game. “You’re going to get banged around, so you just need to keep pushing through it. We knew how it felt to lose, and none of us want to feel that again.”
Randolph, like it has throughout the years of Rich McLaughlin’s tenure, made it very difficult to break out of the zone for Morris Knolls-Hills on Friday. That aggressive forechecking resulted in Randolph holding a 35-15 shot advantage in this one.
It’s exactly how it will have to play if it plans to take a step forward and return to being one of the state’s elite this season.
“It’s always great,” McLaughlin said. “It’s not a make-or-break game, it’s game one. But it’s a good game one. Any time you beat Knolls, it’s a good game one. Our division is tough. Every point is going to matter. Chatham beat Morristown-Beard tonight, that was only by a goal so it could’ve gone either way, this (game) could’ve gone a lot of different ways. Nobody’s going undefeated, so you just have to win and get every point you can if you want to win in the end, it makes it easier in the end.
McLaughlin added, “It’s a great first game, but next week we have game two, and no one cares.”
RAN — Andrew George 7:34
MKH — Ryan Walter (Bryan McCarter) 13:10 PPG
RAN — Jase Zangara (Brian Cislo, Zach Gallo) 3:46
MKH — Michael Simone 7:14
RAN — Jase Zangara (Zach Gallo) 0:26
Shots on goal: Randolph 35, Morris Knolls-Hills 15
Saves: Aidan Marvin (Morris Knolls-Hills) 32, Connor Thomas (Randolph) 13
Team records: Randolph 1-0, Morris Knolls 0-1