In the state championship game for the Public A bracket of New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association ice hockey (NJSIAA), the second-seed Ridge faced off against fifth-seeded Hillsborough. Add in the fact that Ridge are called the "Red Devils" and it made this final all the more fitting because it took place at the Prudential Center, home of the New Jersey Devils, also known as "The Rock" in Newark, New Jersey.
Ridge Ready in the First Period at the Rock
The action between these two highly-ranked high school hockey teams was dead even through the first seven minutes. Both Hillsborough and the odds-on favorites, Ridge, took many shots as they body checked, vied for the puck and felt each other out. However, it would be Ridge who would draw first blood. After Hillsborough goalie, Louis Bizzoco made a diving save, he fell down on the ice and Bastian Chorazykiewicz stepped up and took a quick wrister that beat him through his legs, or five-hole which gave Ridge a 1-o lead at 8:41 minutes gone by.
Controversy arose with five minutes to go in the first period when a forward wearing Ridge’s jersey — an imitation of the Dallas Stars — swept in from the left wing on a breakaway. But he was tripped by a Hillsborough defenseman, which did not move the referees to call a penalty. And the first period did not go out quietly, instead Ridge scored on a two-on-one. This time it was forward, Spencer Jiang who scored the rebound that came to him from Alexander Helgeson’s shot from the right face-off dot.
Depth was key for Ridge succeeding all season long and it paid huge dividends for them in this game. Third line forward, Benjamin McCain-- a sophomore scored added a third goal for the favorites less at 0:47, ensuring that Ridge held a sizable 3-0 lead as the horn sounded for the first intermission.
The Raiders Fight Back
The game was much closer in the second period as Hillsborough found their skating legs and started forechecking better. However, Ridge's defense that surrendered just four goals in its three previous playoff games coming into this final, would not allow the Raiders to have too much time in the offensive zone to generate offense.
Hillsborough's goalie, Bizocco ended the second period with 19 saves on 22 shots. He kept the underdogs in the game by moving well to stop shots from the opposite side of the ice, or the 'weak side' as it is called on the NHL Network.
The Hillsborough ice hockey team kept the game close and even got their breakthrough at 4:34. The Raiders entered the offensive zone on an odd-man rush and the puck fell to the stick of Logan Behrje in the high slot. The senior forward dragged the puck onto his dominant side and ripped a wrist shot that beat Craig over his glove side to cut the deficit to 3-1.
In the third period, Ridge came out ready to finish the game and win their fourth state title in the last decade. Just three minutes into the period, young Red Devil, Ben McCain, struck again. This time, McCain received a pass from Collin Ward and went on a breakaway with an alacritous burst of speed, that gave him separation from the Hillsborough defenseman. McCain made a fast deke to his forehand and slid the puck in around Bizzoco to give his team a three-goal lead for the first time since the beginning of the second frame.
Hillsborough did not stop fighting and freshman forward, Nate Bienstock added a nice goal on an odd man rush to bring the underdogs within two of Ridge. However, at the end of regulation, Hillsborough pulled Bizzoco and this allowed Niccolo Evangelista to score into the empty net to seal the scoreline at 5-2.
Post-game Reactions from the Finalists
Overall, No. 2 in the Public A power rankings, Ridge, who finished the season with a 16-7-4 record, won this game partly because of a great start. They were able to jump out to a big lead not because of star power, but because of their depth. On this day, that included second line forwards Benjamin McCain and Bastion Chorazykiewicz who would account for three of Ridge's four goals (excluding the empty netter).
To the victor goes the spoils is one famous saying but the other is 'give credit where its due.' That applies when describing Hillsborough ice hockey, who lost to a Ridge program that won its second consecutive Public A state championship on Tuesday night.
"Coming in, we knew Ridge had a lot of firepower [on offense]," Hillsborough head coach Dave Hansen said, "After we went down 3-0, we could've hung our heads, we could've given up but we didn't. Ridge is a very good team and to skate with them, I'm very proud of how we played tonight."
The 2022-23 season was Hansen's first as the head coach of Hillsborough high school's hockey team and added that his team had obstacles on their way to the state final.
Goalies receive all the blame when their team loses, but after giving up just two goals and backstopping a team to two straight state championships, senior goaltender, Henry Craig walked over to talk to reporters, beaming and holding the state championship trophy.
"I definitely think Skyland doesn't get the respect we deserve. We've got a lot of tense rivalries, Hillsborough being one of the biggest. They like to talk a lot but they can't always back it up and tonight we came out on top."
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