The Elite Eight gives way to the Frozen Four as the field for the 2017 NJSIAA/New Jersey Devils State Tournament has been whittled down to a handful of teams still left standing in the Public A, Public B and Non-Public semifinals. "The Year of the Upset," four teams seeded ninth or higher are still alive as the tourney shifts to Codey Arena in West Orange starting tomorrow.
BRIDGEWATER -- A two-goal lead, as they say, is the worst lead in hockey.
Joey Ragno and Vinny Ruff scored 10 seconds apart to give 10th-seeded River Dell a two-goal lead in the first period but John Vilade scored twice on mirror image passing plays 2:54 apart to tie it in the second before Alex Konovalov's snipe with 5:25 remaining in regulation lifted second-seeded Ridge to a dramatic, 3-2, come-from-behind win in the quarterfinals of the NJSIAA/New Jersey Devils Public A Tournament at the Sports Arena in Bridgewater.
"It's awesome. I don't know how to describe it. We fought back and never gave up," Vilade said. "Coming into this game, their goalie was hot -- and he was -- but we got a few bodies in front and were able to crack a few in."
Back-to-back goals, A two-goal swing often have a funny way of shifting momentum. A team nets one and the energy carries over off the ensuing face-off and before you realize it a couple of pucks are in the back of your net.
So when Ragno and Ruff buried a pair less than five minutes into the game, emotions were running high on the River Dell/Westwood bench. Ragno put his Bergen County team on the board 4:44 in and Ruff connected again just 10 seconds later.
"You can't help but think you have the game right there," River Dell goalie Matt Ajello said. "But we got a harsh sense of reality."
River Dell carried its 2-0 lead into the second period but Ridge finally cashed in after some extraordinary perimeter passing from junior defensemen Spencer Charleston and Matt Fabiunke.
"We had the defense open. Their wingers were crashing down so we got the puck to them and got to the front of the net," Vilade said. "I got higher up on the slot, got free a little bit, saw the shots coming in and got a stick on both goals."
"They pocketed two quickly, just like we did, and all of a sudden we're tied," Ajello, who finished with 15 saves, said. "They were moving the puck really fast along the perimeter. They throw it to the net and get bodies in front -- they're here for a reason. I tried to make a play but couldn't see."
Back-to-back goals involving Vilade, Charleston and Fabiunke set the stage for Konovalov in the third.
"They were changing. I picked up a pass and was in all alone," Konovalov said. "I took the shot, top left-corner and it went in. The game-winner. We were all in shock."
"It was a nice shot by Alex. He found his spot and buried it," Ridge coach Tim Mullin said. "The comeback was nice. Spencer -- we call him "Chewy" -- a couple of real nice passing plays that got deflected. It was incredible."
River Dell's great run ends here at 18-6-1.
"That's playoff hockey -- sometimes it doesn't go your way," Ajello added. "We made history, did things no other River Dell team did. I love that group of boys in there. I wouldn't want to spend it with anyone else."
Ridge advances to the state semifinals for the third straight season. After falling short to eventual champion, Morristown, in 2016, it is determined to finish the job in 2017.
"I think a lot of our guys have experience from last year. It's definitely going to help this year," Konovalov said after registering his 22nd goal of the season. "Simple plays. We just need to keep it straight and follow our game plan."
9-Princeton 5, 1-Morris Knolls 2: Freshman Aidan Trainor lit the lamp four times while goaltender Sawyer Peck stood tall with 23 saves in between the pipes as Princeton's Cinderella season continues with an upset of top-ranked Morris Knolls at Mennen Arena in Morris Township. Ryan McCormick also hit and Max Garlock had two assists for Princeton, which takes on Watchung Hills in the semifinals slated for March 2 at 6:30 p.m. at Codey Arena.
3-Randolph 3, 11-Sparta/Jefferson 0: Jack and Will Zimmer each tallied a goal and an assist while Luc Swedlund turned aside all 28 shots he faced as Randolph rolled at Mennen Arena in Morris Township. J.T. Zangara also scored for Randolph, which will skate against Ridge in the semifinals set for March 2 at 4:30 p.m. at Codey Arena.
13-Watchung Hills 3, 5-Livingston 1: Zach Giamundo and Daniel Lee scored 3:14 apart in the second period and goaltender Ryan McHugh put up a wall with 33 saves in net as Watchung Hills played spoiler with an upset at Codey Arena in West Orange. Lee hit twice and Zach Lindewirth had a pair of assists for Watchung Hills, which will meet Princeton in the semifinals March 2 at 6:30 p.m. at Codey Arena. Max Solomon scored for Livingston.
1-Glen Rock 3, 8-Summit 1: Jake Kinney scored shorthanded, Matt Maselli connected on the power-play and Ryan McAuley made 14 saves in net as top-seeded Glen Rock prevailed at the Ice House in Hackensack. Peter Cassidy also hit for Glen Rock, which will take on Middletown North in the semifinals slated for March 1 at 6:30 p.m. at Codey Arena.
3-Middletown South 4, 6-Lakeland 1: Dan Berkowitz and Mike Racioppi each registered a goal and an assist, Ryan D'Emilia had two assists and Clay Simonsen recorded 29 saves in net for Middletown South at Middletown Ice World. Demetri Forend and Ryan Lambert also hit for Middletown South, which will go up against Wall in the state semifinals March 1 at 4:30 p.m. at Codey Arena. Carl Lorenz had 29 saves and Dan Martin scored for Lakeland
10-Wall Township 1, 18-Mahwah, 0: Jack Textor's goal, assisted by Kieran MacInnes and Steve Karanassos with 56 seconds left in the first period, stood as the only goal of the game as Wall Township emerged victorious at the Jersey Shore Arena in Wall. Logan Beattie stood tall with 28 saves and a shutout in net for Wall, which advances to meet Middletown South in the semifinals March 1 at 4:30 p.m. at Codey Arena. Ryan Selman had 20 saves for Mahwah.
13-Middletown North 4, 12-Point Pleasant Boro 3 (SO): Justin Skelly and John Hallard converted shootout attempts while goaltender Anthony Manfredi denied all four he faced in the session and finished with 30 saves overall as Middletown North pulled out yet another upset at the Ocean Ice Palace. Brad Heuer scored twice and Hallard also hit in regulation for North, which will take on top-seeded Glen Rock in the semifinals on March 1 at 6:30 p.m. at Codey Arena.
1-Delbarton 6, 9-Bergen Catholic 1: Mark Benemerito and Patrick Harrington each scored twice and James Falivene added a goal and an assist as Delbarton won at Aspen Ice in Randolph. Danny Colon also scored while Troy Kobryn made 12 saves for Delbarton, which goes up against CBA in the semifinals on March 2 at 8:30 p.m. at Codey Arena.
2-Pope John 3, 10-Morristown-Beard 1: John Spetz, Chris Walako and Artem Buzoverya found the back of the net for Pope John en route to victory at Skylands Ice World in Stockholm. Matt Schoer yielded a goal to Mike Karrat but settled in from there to record 21 saves for Pope John, which will skate with Don Bosco March 1 at 8:30 p.m. at Codey Arena.
3-Don Bosco Prep 8, 11-Bishop Eustace 4: Ryan McLinskey and Tsubasa Konishi each scored twice among six different goal-scorers as Don Bosco doubled down at the Ice Vault in Wayne. Mickey Burns had a goal and three assists and Toby DiPaolo, Matt Freitas and Liam McLinksey also hit for Don Bosco, which will meet Pope John in the semifinals set for March 1 at 8:30 p.m. in West Orange. Sean Lippincott scored twice for Bishop Eustace.
4-Christian Brothers 5, 5-St. Augustine 3: Derek Contessa had a hat trick and Corey Clifton added a goal and an assist for CBA en route to victory at the Jersey Shore Arena in Wall. Nic Dietrich also scored for CBA, set to tango with Delbarton in the semis on March 2 at 8:30 p.m. at Codey Arena in a rematch of the 2016 NJSIAA Non-Public final.