By Kevin Coughlin
You would think Coach Bobby Jones is feeling pretty confident as his Colonials prepare for the state high school hockey Public A championship on Monday at the Prudential Center.
After all, top-seeded Morristown already has handed second-seed Randolph a pair of losses, by 4-1 and 3-0 scores earlier this season.
Yet that’s precisely what worries Jones, who in 2014 guided MHS to its first state title.
“It’s always tough to beat a team three times. They’re well coached and they get better and better,” he said of a Rams squad that compiled a 19-4-3 record.
This marks the fourth trip to the Rock in the last five seasons for the 23-3-1 Colonials. To reach Newark this time, they had to beat Westfield (4-1), Morris Knolls (4-1) and Ridge (3-1) in the playoffs.
Seven players skated with the 2014 champs, by Jones’ count, and the club boasts nine seniors. But their MVP is an underclassman. Goaltender Evan Szary, the Mennen Division’s Rookie of the Year last season, skipped the Sophomore Jinx.
“He’s playing like a senior, really stepping up and making us proud,” said Jones, now in his eighth year behind the bench.
Jakob DeFares, a senior, leads Morristown with 23 goals and 22 assists. Senior Co-Captains Bradley Greik, Kyle Beyer and Justin Leifer add scoring punch.
Jones said this team’s style is similar to the 2014 edition: Excellent goaltending and a solid blue line corps that seamlessly transitions to offense. “We’re built the same. But this team’s a little more creative when it comes to scoring,” the coach said.
Morristown is up against a team with a winning tradition. The Rams have made 10 trips to the finals since 2003, emerging on top eight times.
Randolph roared past Manalapan, Southern and Montclair, by a combined score of 15-3, to earn its title shot.
That equates to just one goal allowed per game by junior goaltender Luc Swedlund, matching Szary’s playoff stats for Morristown.
Senior Dan Janson leads the Rams’ offense with 26 goals and 18 assists. Forward Christopher Holowko and defenseman Bryan Early, both seniors, also give the Colonials plenty to think about.
Jones anticipates a hard-hitting, low-scoring contest. He likes his guys in the underdog role.
“When it comes down to it, it’s up to them, if they want it bad enough,” he said.