Nacinovich leads Chatham past Northern Highlands, into Public B final

By Mike Gurnis

Going into Wednesday’s Public B semifinal, Chatham was up against a Northern Highlands team that not only is the reigning state champions, but has lost only one game all year- and none to a Public school.

Chatham was determined to change that.

That determination shined through behind a big second period rally, which saw Matt Nacinvoich score twice in the span of a minute, before setting up a 5-on-3 shorthanded goal for Doyle Curry later in the period.

It gave Chatham the momentum it needed, and it held on the rest of the way as the fourth-seeded Cougars took down top-seeded Northern Highlands in the Public B semifinals at Essex County Codey Arena in West Orange.

“We knew that we needed to get the first once since their goalie is good,” Nacinovich, who finished with two goals and an assist, said. “If we got the first one, then the second and third would come. I think it was really important. It was a good time in the period. We threw a shot on net, and it went in. I’m kind of at a loss for words right now, I’m not going to lie.”

Getting offense was going to be a challenge in this game, as Chatham was facing one of the top goalies in the state in Daniel Moor, who came in with a sparkling .947 save percentage.

It knew it was going to have to get inside position to score goals, and it was able to do just that.

“I think it was definitely pucks on net,” Nacinovich said. “We wanted to screen him a lot and just be around the net and just be feisty and pesty around the net to get rebounds and just punch them in.”

Defensively, Chatham was able to hold Northern Highlands to just one goal, which came towards the end of the second period. The defense, which was without the services of its dynamic blueliner in Nikita Konevych, came up big throughout the game in front of goalie Nate May.

“I went into it with a little nerves, I’m not going to lie,” May said. “I thought I was going to get a lot of shots. I know they have a tough offense. My defense played great, it was insane. We played up to their level. I think we had more possession than them, so (Northern Highlands) didn’t put too much pressure on them.”

Doyle Curry, a defenseman, buried a 2-on-0 feed from Nacinovich for the rare 5-on-3 shorthanded goal to put Chatham ahead 3-0. He led a defense which also included the likes of Ryan Burke and Evan Thomas, and everyone had to step up in Konevych’s absence.

“Our game plan was to shut them down coming through the neutral zone,” Chatham coach Brendon Herr said. “They’re a really good transition team. I thought we did a really good job of that, and just keeping our game simple. We got to the red line and didn’t have an odd-man rush, the puck was going 200-feet. I thought we did a nice job of getting in shooting lanes and all that good stuff. We did the little things great tonight.”

Herr added, “You look at a guy like Evan Thomas, and credit to him- I think he had one of his best games of the year. He’s playing a regular shift through the first and second period, used his stick really well and broke up a few plays coming through the neutral zone. A guy like him that we can rely on when others are out of the lineup, that helps us moving forward.”

Now, Chatham will get a big opportunity on Monday, when it plays in a state championship game for the first time since 2019. It will take on the winner of Wednesday night’s semifinal between sixth-seeded Ramapo and second-seeded Middletown North in the Public B final at Prudential Center on Monday at 3:30 p.m.

It will look to take home its third state title in program history and first since 2013.

“There’s no words to describe it,” Nacinovich said. “We’ve been waiting for this all season. The first practice, we knew we had high hopes and could go all the way. We just have to win a game on Monday.”

It also has its sights set on completing the rare feat of winning both the Mennen Cup and state championship in the same year, after Chatham ended its 42-year Mennen Cup drought just two weeks ago.

“It’s amazing,” May said. “We got the Mennen Cup, and most teams I feel like, would stop there. They’d lose their motivation. But we just keep going, we want both.”

E-mail Mike Gurnis at

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