Above: Glen Rock players celebrate their state championship win with the student section. Below, in order: Glen Rock captain Jake Kinney and assistant Peter Cassidy hold the championship trophy; players mob goaltender Ryan McAuley, who had 22 saves in the game, the team poses with the trophy. Photos by Simon Toffel.
Ryan McAuley snatched the puck out of the air as the final seconds ticked down, and then he dropped it, threw his gloves up and over his head, and waited for the mob to descend upon him.
And the mob did jump on the junior goaltender, because when the final horn sounded inside Mennen Sports Arena Monday night, the scoreboard read Glen Rock 8, Wall Township 1, meaning that the Panthers had become, for the first time in their history, New Jersey State Public B Hockey champions.
“I never really imagined how it would feel, but this is 10 times better than anything you could imagine,’’ junior forward Johnny LaMacchia said after Glen Rock (22-3-4) fulfilled its season-long destiny to capture the state title. “Everything about this year was perfect, and it went our way.’’
The state title was the first for Glen Rock since the girls soccer team won the Group 1 championship in 2012.
Glen Rock, the Bergen County Tournament runner up and Big North Gold Cup champion, was the No. 1 seed in the tournament, having been favored all season to win the title a year after losing to Ramsey, 5-1, in the 2016 final. With Ramsey having lost much of their squad to graduation, the Panthers became the team to beat, and they became the overwhelming favorite to win it all the moment their top challenger, No. 2 seed Northern Highlands, fell to Mahwah in a shock upset in the second round.
But the Panthers, who methodically wore teams down all season, didn’t necessarily look like a juggernaut early in the tournament, grinding out tough wins over Jackson Memorial in the second round, and Summit in the quarterfinals. A 4-1 win over Middletown North in the semifinal put them into the final against the 10th seed Wall, the Shore Conference champion which had upset No. 3 Middletown South in the other semifinal.
The game started off with play going back-and-forth in the first 10-plus minutes, before goals by Peter Cassidy, on a delayed penalty, and Eddie Corvelli just 22 seconds apart put Glen Rock ahead, 2-0. Then, with 55.2 seconds left in the period, Cassidy found a wide open Matt Maselli in the slot and he backhanded home a shot to give the Panthers a 3-0 lead entering the first intermission. The game was pretty much over right there.
First-year head coach Anthony Yelovich, who took over after former coach Sergio Fernandez stepped down, said he never expected to win the final game by such a wide margin.
“Wall is a great team,’’ Yelovich said. “I did not expect this at all.’’
In fact, Yelovich said he didn’t think the Panthers were the prohibitive favorite to win that people made them out to be all season. He said the Panthers “overachieved,’’ and pointed to the fact that Glen Rock graduated 11 seniors from last year’s team and lost two other players who transferred out.
“There’s 14 new guys on this roster,’’ he said.
One of the new guys was McAuley, the goalie who played JV last season and was tasked with replacing three-year starter Matt Rosario. McAuley was a huge question mark for the team in its quest to return to the final, but Yelovich had faith in him.
“He’s been questioned all year, and I’ve been saying the same thing: The kid gets better every day,’’ said Yelovich, who credited goaltending coach Zane Kalemba with helping develop McAuley.
McAuley played perhaps his strongest game of the season, making 22 saves. Unlike previous games, where Glen Rock typically would rack up a huge advantage in shots on goal, McAuley had to go to work early in the game as the shots were even for most of the first period.
“Maybe I was a little jittery at the beginning of the game (and) just to get some shots helped with my confidence,’’ McAuley said. “And when we started scoring, it increased the confidence even more.’’
Glen Rock led 6-0 after two periods and took an 8-0 lead before McAuley lost his shutout bid with 8:28 remaining.
“I think I’d rather have the state title,’’ he said with a grin.
Cassidy and Corvelli each had two goals, and Maselli, Jake Kinney, defenseman Colin Morrow, and senior forward Bobby Fenton each had one as Glen Rock closed the season unbeaten over its last 13 games.
Kinney, the senior captain who is Glen Rock’s all-time leading scorer, said losing in the final last year was motivation that drove the team from Day One this season.
“Last year, we just feel like we didn’t play the way we wanted to, and we just had that in our minds this entire year, and especially this game,’’ Kinney said. “And we came out ready to play.’’