February 27, 2003
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Facing the exit, Ridgewood turns the tables

Thursday, February 27, 2003

By Jim McConville
NJS.com Staff Writer

HACKENSACK - Coming into Wednesday night's Northern Conference White Division Cup semifinal, Ridgewood head coach Joe Michalski had a good feeling about his team, a feeling that it was ready for a big performance.

Two minutes into the game, however, West Milford was leading 1-0 and some of that edge came off. With 6:51 to go in the game, Ridgewood was trailing 4-2 and seemingly headed out of the Cup tournament.

At that point, Michalski made a goaltender change that was essentially a timeout and utilized the allotted warmup time to get his team re-focused.

Whatever was said, it worked, because the Maroons scored two goals in the next two minutes to tie the game and sent it into overtime where Russ Grodin scored 5:26 into the extra session to send Ridgewood to the Cup final with a 5-4 win.

The Maroons will try to claim their second Cup title in team history (they won the then American Conference C title in 1990) on Friday night when they face Fair Lawn (a 7-2 winner over Ramapo on Wednesday at Sport-O-Rama) in an 8:15 start at South Mountain Arena in West Orange.

The game-winning shot came on what started as an innocent dump-in by the Maroons, who moved their record to 14-8-1 while West Milford fell to 9-11-2.

"They dumped the puck in and Kevin Hogan had been sitting out most of the game, so I knew he had the fresh legs to get in there and get the puck," Grodin said of the game-winning sequence. "He beat his guy and passed it to Mike Cozza behind the net.

"Mike and I have played together a lot, and we kind of know each other, so I knew he was going to get me the puck. He came around the net, threw it to me and I tipped it top corner."

It marked the fourth lead change in a game that saw the Highlanders score three times in the third period to offset a 2-1Ridgewood lead after two periods.

"I felt we were going to score a lot of goals on this guy (West Milford goalie Sean Ryan) and we did, but I didn't think we'd give up that many," Michalski said in explaining his pre-game mindset. "That was disappointing, but you have to admire the heart they showed at the end of the game, scoring those two goals. They grew up as a team tonight, and that's only going to help us this weekend."

The comeback began when Frank Lazzaro took a pass from Brian Peacock just inside the blue line and let one fly from straight away that beat Ryan to the low left side at 9:04 of the third, cutting the Highlander lead to 4-3. Ridgewood evened the score 50 seconds later as Steve Jaskot fired a shot from almost the exact spot that Lazzaro had scored from. Ryan made the save, but the rebound came out in front and Cozza tipped it home for his second goal of the game and 18th of the season.

"Look at the last three goals. Lazzaro, Cozza, Grodin. All seniors," Michalski said. "What more can you say."

West Milford had opened the scoring 2:06 into the contest on a goal by Ryan Saum, with Joe Romano getting the assist. Ridgewood tied it up with a goal from Jesse Graham, his 16th. Sam Graham found Peacock with a pass, and he sent it in front and he got it to Jesse Graham, who found the short side past Ryan.

Cozza got the lead goal at 11:40 of the second period, with Dan Layfield making a nice play down low and finding Cozza parked at the left post, where he one-timed it home.

The lead held into the third period before West Milford's Romano evened things up at 2:37, knocking home a rebound of a Steve Williamson shot. They took the lead on a power play goal at 4:43 by Gary Spohn, who scored off another rebound of a Romano shot, and increased it to 4-2 at 8:09 on a Chris Hofer score, with Sean Fraser notching the assist.

After that goal, Michalski pulled David Putnins for Mike Narvaez in what was really a timeout, and after a save b y Narvaez stopped play, he put Putnins back in. The freshman finished with 23 saves, including a big stop on a breakaway.

"We're just happy to be here," Michalski said of the Cup final. "When you consider we were 1-15-1 last year, we've come a long way. Fair Lawn will be tough, but we'll be ready."

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