Randolph rallies in 3rd for 3-1 win over Chatham
MORRIS TWP. -- In the always-competitive Mennen Division, there are no nights off, no matter what your record is.
Friday night's clash between Randolph and Chatham turned out to be a perfect example of how anything can happen in any game in this division. Randolph went into the game with a perfect divisional record, and faced a Chatham squad that has struggled to find its footing while dealing with several key injuries this year.
Randolph's unbeaten record in the division was put to the test as it went into the third period facing a rare deficit. But goals from sophomores Nick Gallo and James Mattson, which came 53 seconds apart late in the game helped put the Rams over the top en route to a 3-1 win over Chatham at Mennen Arena.
The win clinched the Mennen Division regular season title for Randolph, meaning it will have the top seed in the upcoming Mennen Cup as it looks for a repeat title performance.
"It's a tough game. We knew going in it was going to be a one-goal game," Randolph coach Rich McLaughlin said. "It was no surprise to us. They (Chatham) were all back from injuries and stuff. It's going to be that way the rest of the year. We're going to have one-goal games and we're going to be behind sometimes, but it is what it is. You've got to play hard and play through it and just battle until the end."
The game was certainly a test of Randolph's mental fortitude, as it controlled the majority of the offensive possession, yet could not find a way to capitalize early on. The first period saw Randolph outshoot Chatham 13-3, but Chatham sophomore goalie Will Ewald- who was making his first career varsity start after injuries to goalies Zach Prendergast and Sam Rowland- was up to the task against one of the top public school teams in the state.
Ewald finished the game with 30 saves.
"Will's a confident kid," Chatham coach Brendon Herr said. "Even from the start and the first shot, there was no nerves. He handled the puck well. He tried to move the puck as well as he could to keep the play going. He made some big, key saves there in the first period, where they easily could've gone ahead. Excellent effort on his part, tonight."
Chatham eventually took the lead with 5:24 to go in the second period. Colin Pierce broke into the offensive zone, and used his speed to make a move around the defender, giving him a one-on-one opportunity against Randolph goalie Gavin Einfeldt. Pierce beat Einfeldt, which gave his team the lead, despite being out-shot by a wide margin.
It appeared that lead was going to hold up thanks to Ewald's heroics, as he stood tall during a third period push by Randolph. It took until 6:42 left in the game for the Rams to finally solve the sophomore, as Nick Gallo's shot from the top of the left circle found its way into the net, tying the game up at one.
"I believe the puck ricocheted off the referee and I was able to get an odd-man rush," Gallo said. "I pulled it to the outside, was able to put it under (the defender's) stick and under the bar. It probably ricocheted off the knob of the goalie's stick, but it went into the upper-right corner and it was in the net."
The game-tying goal allowed Randolph to mentally reset, and appeared to shift momentum back in its favor. It capitalized on that momentum just 53 seconds later, as sophomore James Mattson put home a rebound of an Evan Xhumba shot, which gave the Rams the lead.
"We were playing hard, and we told the guys that what we were doing was good," McLaughlin said of his message to the team going into the third period. "We had to take it to another level. We needed that extra step around the net. We were getting close but we didn't have a rebound shot, I think, all night long. Going into the third period, we had 20 or so shots, and I don't think we had a rebound. That's what we have to have. We had to put a bit more pressure on the goaltender and find a shot from within our scoring area."
Randolph was able to shut Chatham down for the remainder of the game, and essentially sealed it as J.T. Zangara's shot from his own zone made its way into the empty net with 44 seconds left.
It was exactly the type of game that Randolph can expect as the intensity picks up down the stretch of the season with the state playoffs looming. This is a group that knows what it has to do to win in crunch-time, even if it isn't in highlight-reel fashion.
"That's how we've got to play," McLaughlin said. "We're not pretty. We're not always very pretty, we've got to stay ugly and play defense."
C -- Colin Pierce (Quinn Kelly) 5:24
Third period R -- Nick Gallo (Austin Cross) 6:42 R -- James Mattson (Evan Xhumba, Justin Harper) 5:49
R -- J.T. Zangara (Michael Sofia) 0:44 ENG
Saves: Will Ewald (C) 30, Gavin Einfeldt (R) 9 Shots: Randolph 33, Chatham 9.
Team records: Randolph 13-1-1, Chatham 5-10-1