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High School Hockey: The Randolph Rams Keep Their Defense-First Identity

by Brittany Burke / New Jersey Devils

This year's varsity team is hungry to capture another title for Randolph ice hockey. (Photo/Courtesy of RHSIHBC)

Heading into his 21st season as the head coach of the Randolph ice hockey team, Rich McLaughlin has built a program that molds extremely defensive-minded players and given his track record, his methods work.

Last season, the Rams captured their third consecutive NJSIAA Public-A state championship by defeating Bridgewater-Raritan in the finals 4-1. At the end of the 2012-2013 season McLaughlin was named NJSCA Coach of the Year after two decades at the helm of the team and seven overall championship titles.

McLaughlin is aware that he’s gained a reputation for playing a very defensive and gritty game, but that doesn’t mean he is shying away from a blue print that works.

“We play defense first, we have to play defense because we don’t have a whole lot of guys who can score goals, so we try and hold teams down to a couple of goals and work from our defensive zone out,” the tenured coach explained. “We will be doing that for sure this year. We don’t have a whole lot of goal scorers coming back, I think our leading goal scorer had six goals last year, so we will be playing defense first and hopefully be keeping the teams off the score board, get one and get out of there.”

The Randolph Rams celebrated their third consecutive NJSIAA Public A Championship at the end of the 2012-2013 season. (Photo/Prudential Center)

Playing defensively doesn’t mean sitting back and waiting for the opponent to make a move, the team just won’t be getting the pretty goals. The Rams will need to score being in such a competitive conference, but they work on getting the rebound and dump-in goals.

“We just don’t have a guy that’s going to score 50 goals for us and come down through a whole team by himself. We have to get the ugly goals, like rebounds. We have to work hard around the net, help each other out, and get the ugly goals, goals that aren’t the prettiest looking but they do count,” said McLaughlin when talking about his team’s identity.

With this mindset, the Rams are very much a blue collar team. They are going to work for each goal and each win while trying to keep their opponents from scoring against them.

Returning to the team are senior goalie Andrew Holowko, forward Mitch Gaudioso and senior captains, Brenden Siegel, Luke Wright and Stef Tamminga. Tamminga was the team’s leading goal scorer last season, notching 10 goals for 18 points, but he isn’t expected to start the season due to medical reasons. McLaughlin is looking to defensemen, Siegel, to really make an impact on the team where Rob Bolinder left the void.

“We had three major guys that left, one was Rob Bolinder, our captain who was probably one of the toughest guys we ever had play for Randolph High School. [He was] one of the best captains, best leaders on the ice that we’ve ever had. Filling his void is going to be very difficult. He played a lot of minutes he blocked a ton of shots and did a whole lot of things for the locker room that you just don’t see on a stats sheet and he kept the kids together,” McLaughlin said as he described the captain.

There are a lot of players on the roster this season that were not a part of last year’s championship run and the coach can see that they are hungry for their chance to bring the school another state title. To get to that point in the season the team will face tough opponents, which began with playing Morris Knolls back on December 3.

“There’s nothing like a Morris Knolls game to see who will stand up for themselves and compete. It’s always a tough game; it’s usually a one goal game one way or the other,” McLaughlin said. “If they come out and play hard, win battles, step up [they can win]. Some of these guys haven’t played a varsity game yet so were waiting to see how they actually come out and play, and [then] some of the older guys too have a different role this year, they have to be more leaders and we’re waiting to see if they step up and do that Tuesday night.”

Randolph walked away from the game with a 2-1 victory over Morris Knolls with goals coming from Dan Janson and Bryan Early. The Rams went on to tie the Chatham Cougars, both teams notching four goals.

With the season just beginning, another title isn’t even in the coach’s sight. Mostly, McLaughlin is waiting to see which players really come forward to make a name for themselves, but until then he likes what he sees from the work his team is putting in on the ice.

Randolph is heading into a home stint beginning on December 10 and lasting until December 19. They will face Morristown, Summit, Sparta, and Kinnelon before heading back on the road to play Morristown-Beard.

For more, head to NJ Youth Hockey Central.

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