By Mike Gurnis
There was never any panic on the West Morris bench.
Just days after prevailing in a shootout to reach the Haas Cup final, the Wolfpack once again found themselves in a dire situation in Monday’s title game. Trailing by one late in the third period, West Morris was once again in need of heroics.
It got the tying goal it needed to force overtime when Tommy Togno took advantage of a turnover with 2:13 left. Then, Michael Ferry netted the game-winner with 6:51 to go in overtime to lead second-seeded West Morris to a 3-2 win over Park Regional in the 24th Haas Cup final at Mennen Arena.
“It says a lot about their character and about their moxie,” West Morris coach Phil Togno said. “They refused to quit. They just believed in each other and were positive on the bench the entire time. They kept believing that even when there were (five minutes left leading up to the tying goal) we were just positive and thinking ‘next shift is ours.’ It was that kind of mentality and it was next man up, next shift and they believed in each other.”
The win sealed a repeat for West Morris, after it downed Mount Olive-Hopatcong-Hackettstown, 2-1 in last year’s final. It also capped off a tournament in which all three games of the Haas Cup needed overtime to decide winners. West Morris needed overtime and a shootout in order to defeat Roxbury in the semifinals last Tuesday.
“It’s something you dream about,” Ferry said of the game-winner. “When you’re 10 years old playing knee hockey with your friends, scoring the game winning goal, it’s something you just can’t put into words. I don’t even know the words for it right now.”
West Morris trailed, 2-1 after Park Regional’s Andrew Steinberg scored his first career goal on a shot from the neutral zone late in the second period. It appeared well on its way to defeat, with Park Regional goalie Dylan Marion (31 saves) and his defense in front shutting down the Wolfpack for most of the way. Then, Togno buried the game-tying goal late, before overtime when Benjamin Barnhill fed Ferry at the side of the net to seal the title.
“We worked our (butts) off the entire game to get to overtime,” Ferry said. “(Barnhill) made a good play, put the puck on net. It took a fortunate bounce and the puck was just sitting right there for me.”
Barnhill said, “I was just open for the pass carrying it into the zone. I fell, got tripped and just tried to center it to the middle of the ice hoping someone was there. Next thing I know I see it’s in the back of the net. It felt amazing. At first I was like ‘oh God I don’t know what’s happening.’ All I hear is people shouting and I see it’s in the back of the net and I’m just pumped. My whole team just did it again, back-to-back.”
It was a monumental moment for the program, which just two years ago went 0-14-1. Since then, it has picked up back-to-back Haas Cup titles.
The repeat was far from certain, though. Going into the tournament, West Morris went through a 1-5-1 stretch, and was not playing its best hockey going in.
That all changed once it took the ice for the Haas Cup.
“We played a really hard schedule all year,” Ferry said. “We got better in those games. We went down and played Brick and a lot of tough teams and it just made us better. We’ve been waiting all year to get to the Haas Cup final. We knew deep down that this is something we wanted. This was our goal from the beginning of the year. Now we move on to states and hopefully can do some damage there.”
It hopes that this two-year stretch of success will carry going forward, even to the lower levels of the program.
Togno said, “It truly means a lot to this program. You’re starting to see nets in driveways now. You’re starting to see kids in the crowd wearing (jerseys). The momentum that we can get off of this and the interest is starting to grow.”
PARK — Stanley Gelman (Mike Monahan, Michael Capozzi) 11:05
WMC — Benjamin Barnhill (Tommy Togno, Jake Salamone) 10:11 PPG
PARK — Andrew Steinberg 4:38
WMC — Tommy Togno 2:13
WMC — Michael Ferry (Benjamin Barnhill) 6:51
Shots on goal: West Morris 34, Park Regional 23