It took Morristown-Beard nearly 40 minutes before it finally took its first lead of the game. But when it finally broke through, it never let go.
Will Bonnelli's goal, assisted by Sam Schappel with 5:31 remaining in regulation, gave second-seeded Morristown-Beard a lead it would not relinquish as the 10-time and defending champions held on to stun top-seeded Morris Knolls, 4-3, in the final of the 42nd annual Mennen Cup at Mennen Arena in Morris Township.
Isaac Davison, Max Cassella and Mike Karrat each delivered game-tying goals, helping Morristown-Beard erase three one-goal deficits while goaltender Anthony DelTufo stood tall with 18 saves before Bonnelli's sixth goal of the season capped off one of the wildest finishes in Mennen Cup history.
"Coach Randy Velischek always says, 'Get in front of the net and good things will come of it.' So that's what I did, the puck came right to me, I saw my opportunity and got a stick on it," Bonnelli described his game-winning goal. "We never had two guys on the puck the whole game but in between periods we talked about and went out did it in the third. We really showed it out there.
"We were never the underdog in this game," Bonnelli said. "This team has a lot of skill. Not only skill but heart and determination. That's what really helped us out there."
The triumph marks Morristown-Beard's 11th Mennen Cup title, trailing only Delbarton (18) for the most cups, all-time, in the rich history of the tournament. Coach Velischek, who played five seasons for the New Jersey Devils (1985-1990), was thrilled the way his team battled back from three deficits, specifically with three timely goals down the stretch in the third period.
"I really loved the way we held them in for large parts of the game, really happy with the way we played defense," Velischek said. "Historically, we're not a team that blocks a lot of shots but when push came to shove our defensemen and a couple of our forwards really stepped up and blocked a lot of shots."
Alex Welch and Chris Conway gave Morris Knolls a 2-1 lead it carried into the second intermission. Cassella tied it up at 2-2 just 26 seconds into the third period but Conway came right back with his second goal of the game to return the lead to Morris Knolls just 40 seconds later. Not to be outdone, Karrat came right back finishing an outstanding set up from Brayden Patricia as Morristown-Beard battled back to once again tie the score at 3-3 exactly one minute after Conway gave Morris Knolls its third lead of the game.
Karrat's goal was the last in a flurry of three goals in 1:40 to begin the third period, setting the stage for Bonnelli to record the game-winner.
"The last five minutes were a little hairy -- nobody knew what they were doing -- a lot of running around out there with a couple of rookie defensemen and a few players who'd never been in a situation like that before," Velischek confessed. "But kudos to Morris Knolls for not saying die and our seven seniors that pulled it together and won their third or fourth Mennen Cup in a row.
"From a fan standpoint it was a lot of fun, from a coaching perspective it was great, it was just too bad someone had to lose this game," Velischeck said.
Morris Knolls pulled it goalie with just over a minute remaining in regulation and called timeout with a few seconds remaining and the face-off deep in the Morristown-Beard zone but couldn't get the equalizer.
"It was a complete battle. It was a great game, both teams played amazing right up to the last period. Unfortunately we didn't come out on top this time," Conway, who scored twice for Morris Knolls, said. "They got some bounces their way and we just couldn't pop in another one. We just have to refocus on states now."
"I'm proud of this team. We didn't quit," Morris Knolls coach Tim Kepler said. "The message to them at the end was to keep their heads up. Our season's not over. We'll take every emotion, every feeling and bottle it up and be ready to be there Monday for our first state game. That's a good team over there. We knew it was going to be a battle. They capitalized on a couple opportunities, we capitalized on a couple of opportunities, they did one more time than us."
Morristown-Beard staked claim to its fourth straight Mennen Cup and seventh in the last 10 years. It improves to 16-8-1 and will take on St. Peter's Prep in the NJSIAA Non-Public Sweet 16. Morris Knolls drops to 16-5-2 but with the top seed in the NJSIAA Public A tournament, it will reset awaiting the winner of High Point-Mount Olive.
Photo Credit: Dave Rubel/http://www.njsportsmedia.com/