WEST ORANGE — Heading into the third period of Tuesday’s NJSIAA Public A semifinal, the Ridge High School ice hockey team had just three shots on goal.
Ben Raff’s tally in the opening period, though, had the third-seeded Red Devils up 1-0 and just 15 minutes from playing for a state title.
Like they had done for more than a period after taking the lead, Ridge kept the puck away from Randolph’s forwards and limited scoring chances.
But with 6:49 to play, Noah Leinwand connected for the second-seeded Rams to tie the game, and Mitch Gaudioso scored 1:34 into overtime to give Randolph a 2-1 victory over Ridge at Codey Arena.
“Somebody has to win and somebody has to lose, it’s just unfortunate that the loser had to be us today,” Ridge coach Tim Mullin said. “We played well the whole game and we knew it was going to be a tough game and a one-goal contest. We expected it to play out like this.”
The Red Devils were only able to get one shot on goal in the first period, but they made it count.
After working the puck around in the offensive zone, Raff, a sophomore defenseman, ended up with the puck at the left point.
Raff let go a heavy slapshot and it beat Randolph goalie Andrew Holowko short side for the goal.
Joe Mandala and Cole Sanderson picked up the assists on the tally at the 8:15 mark of the first period.
“It was pretty exciting for us and for Ben to get that goal so quick,” Mullin said. “I just wish we could have gotten another chance like that the rest of the game.”
But with just under seven minutes to play in regulation, Leinwand rescued Randolph, blasting home a slapshot from the top of the faceoff circles to beat Ridge goalie Robbie Fenton, who made 23 saves in the game.
Ridge won more than half of the faceoffs in the contest, including the initial drop of the puck to begin the overtime period. But after making a rush up ice in the opening seconds of the extra session, Ridge lost control of the puck and Gaudioso carried up ice and let go of a bomb from the slot, beating Fenton and ending the Red Devils’ season.
“It was a back-and-forth game throughout and when the puck dropped in overtime, we had a great chance, but couldn’t put it in,” Mullin said. “And they took full advantage of their first chance in overtime and that was that.”
Randolph outshot Ridge 25-12.
Ridge, which outlasted Brick 6-5 on Monday night, played their second game in less than 24 hours, but Mullin didn’t think that had any effect on his group.
“We would have practiced today anyway, so playing back-to-back like this at the end of the season didn’t hurt us at all,” he said.