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Five Greatest Ramsey High School Hockey Games

August 6th, 2017

Here they are. The five greatest hockey games in Ramsey High School's history. Our Rams have come so far so fast since their inaugural season of 2001. The selections may be debated but there is no denying that they were great contests with a profound impact on the program. The games are listed in chronological order and starts with the Rams biggest win at the time...

"Battle of Ramsey" Ice Vault Pepsi Classic Tournament 12/29/08

Rams 4 Don Bosco Prep 3 (OT)

Described by local media as "One for the Ages", the first-ever matchup between the cross-town schools was a watershed moment on several levels ... this was the first time in over 10 years that a public school defeated one of the Gordon Conference teams ... this was the game that sparked the Rams to the eventual State Championship later in the season ... this was the victory that established the Rams as one of the State's top ice hockey programs.

As described by Varsity Aces, "The Battle of Ramsey turned out to be an an all out war" and the "the best hockey game ... of the season". From the drop of the opening face-off at a packed Ice Vault Arena, it was a bitter and hard fought contest from start to finish. After a scoreless first period, the Rams opened the scoring midway through the second when Junior forward John Kirk ripped one just inside the right post. However, the Ironmen scored the equalizer just 14 seconds later on a goal by Tyler Stephanik. Don Bosco grabbed the lead late in the second period as the ice began to tilt toward the Rams zone and the period ended with the Rams down by a goal. Ironmen 2 Rams 1.

The Rams rallied during the intermission and stormed Don Bosco at the start of the third which seemed to rattle the Ironmen. Don Bosco was assessed a penalty for having too many men on the ice and the Rams scored the equalizer when Captain Jon Rainey drove one passed Ironmen goaltender Cole Meitner with a little more than five minutes remaining. The contest was tied at two. After Star Ledger "Goalie of the Decade" Matt Braun stopped Stephanik on a breakaway, Stephanik scored the go-ahead goal just a minute later when a fluky bounce set-up his one-timer. It was nip and tuck the entire game with the Ironmen taking a one-goal lead into the final minutes which is when the drama really escalated.

Rams legendary Coach Bob Toy pulled Braun for the extra attacker and the Rams appeared to tie the game with 1:27 remaining. However, the goal was waived off by the officials for goaltender interference. A true testament to their character, the Rams remained resilient and continued to press the action in the Ironmen's zone. With only 30 seconds left in regulation, Rams' Junior Ricky Gnassi won a key offensive zone face-off back to defenseman Jeff Rothlisberger whose shot from the point was tipped by Kirk over Meitner's blocker for Kirk's second goal of the game. Rams 3 Ironmen 3. Overtime.

Don Bosco pressed the action early in the extra session but the Rams made the most of their few opportunities. Rainey was able to carry the puck deep into the Ironmen's zone before being knocked off the play. Rothlisberger, who was trailing Rainey, picked up the loose puck and powered a shot by Bosco's netminder for the Rams' stunning victory. The event was best described by an uncredited ghost writer at the time:

"THE RAMS WIN!!! THE RAMS WIN!!! THE RAMS WIN!!!"

"The scene looked like a Championship, not a Tournament game. Blue Jerseys hugging in elation at center ice!!"

"A big win for a team that has people starting to notice them as not just some public school from northern Bergen County. But a team that has talent, and can be a contender. A team that has earned BIG bragging rights in Ramsey, and a team that is for REAL."

"Boys Event of the Year" State Championship Final 03/21/09

Rams 2 Kinnelon 0

The Rams consummated their magical 25-1-2 season with a 2-0 victory over top seed Kinnelon in the State Championship Final. To date, the Rams remain the only public school from Bergen County to win a State Championship.

The event was momentous as the Rams were named by The Record as the "Boys Team of the Year" and the State Championship game was the fans's vote as The Record's "Boys Event of the Year" edging out Don Bosco's football victory over De La Salle.

It seemed as if the entire Ramsey community flooded the Prudential Center to support their team and although the Colts were the defending State Champions, there was a feeling from the outset that this was just going to be the Rams day. The Rams got on the board in the first when John Kirk deflected a shot from Patrick Rutkowski to give the Rams a 1-0 lead, which as it turns out was all that the Rams would need. Tyler Bishop added another in the second for good measure, goaltender Matt Braun stopped all 40 Kinnelon shots and the Rams were Champions. As noted by Mark Czerwinski of The Record:

"It was one of the most emotional moments of the sports season; a moment fans voted The North Jersey Event of the Year ... This was the kind of game - the action, the atmosphere, the buzz - that could turn out to be one of the defining moments in the growth of North Jersey Hockey."

As the game came to a close, star goaltender Matt Braun did not even hear the buzzer ... he just remembered getting swept away in a sea of sound.

 

"The Larkin Game" State Championship Elite Eight 03/05/12

Rams 3 Kinnelon 2 (SO)

Kinnelon was once again the top seed in the Public B State Championship Tournament bracket led by offensive star Brian Gnad. The Rams had recaptured the League Championship it lost to Mahwah the season before and advanced to the Elite Eight after defeating formal rival Northern Highlands. Gone were stars like goaltender Matt Braun, Jon Rainey, Tyler Bishop, Michael Gwon, Scott Rothlisberger John Kirk and Ricky Gnassi. But new leaders emerged - Nick Bressi, Connor DiTomasso, Brandon Hasslinger, Alec Mast and goaltender Justin Larkin who arguably had one of the greatest goaltending performances in Rams history. From the drop of the puck at a jammed-packed Skylands Arena - spectators were four deep on the glass - the Colts swarmed the Rams and "owned the puck" for most of the game. But Larkin kept his team in the contest by making a number spectacular saves. As noted by The Record columnist Jim McConnville, "from the first minute though overtime [Larkin] just made save after save ... and stopped at least five sure goals".

Although the Colts were controlling the contest, the Rams had a power player opportunity late in the first and jumped out to an 1-0 lead when defenseman Alec Mast fired a shot from the point passed Colts goaltender Thomas Huber. However, Brian Gnad, who was stoned on several scoring chances throughout the game, was able to break through for a goal just a little over a minute later to tie the contest. The game would remain tied until the beginning of the third when the Colts finally put one by Larkin just 90 seconds into the period. With time ticking down, the Rams worked feverishly to generate a scoring opportunity for the equalizer and to force overtime. That chance came with a little over six minutes remaining. After the Rams transitioned out of their zone, the puck made its way to some freshman named Alex Whelan who was streaking down the right side. Whelan entered the Colts zone and ripped a shot into the top shelf of the net. Tie game.

The game remained tied through the overtime period and it would take six rounds in the shootout before Rams Senior Nick Bressi ended the classic by going five-hole on Huber.

"The Big North Showdown" State Championship Frozen Four 03/04/15

Rams 3 Glen Rock 2

The State Semifinal contest was billed as a clash between two of North Jersey's top public high school hockey programs and the game did not disappoint. It was a hard-fought thriller on a stormy evening at Codey Arena with our Rams emerging victorious 3-2 over Glen Rock. Game play was lightning fast and the hits were hard as these two giants traded blows throughout the game.

Glen Rock took the lead with just 13 seconds left in the first on a goal by Brandon Rosario. In the second period, fortune continued to shine on Glen Rock when Rams defenseman Brandon O'Callahan was assessed a very questionable five minute major penalty for boarding. However, playing a man down and with the game possibly on the line for the Rams, the Star Ledger Player of the Year did what legendary players are expected to do. While killing the penalty, Senior Alex Whelan created a Glen Rock turnover in the Rams defensive zone and was off to the races on a breakaway against Glen Rock's goaltender Matt Rosario. Whelan was not going to be denied. The short-handed game-changer tied the contest at one. The Rams rallied and killed off the rest of the penalty and had captured all momentum. Anthony Steffe and Connor Edwards quickly potted two more goals and by the end of the second period, the Rams headed to the locker room with a 3-1 lead.

However, Glen Rock would not go quietly into the stormy night at Codey. After pulling the goaltender for the extra skater, Glen Rock's Brandon Rosario scored his second of the night with just 1:53 remaining to bring Glen Rock to within one. But Glen Rock would never get close the rest of the way with Whelan and Botta holding the puck in Glen Rock's zone as time ticked down on Glen Rock's season. The Rams would lose the State Championship final to Middletown North 5-4, but this was one of the classic games in the annals of Ramsey Hockey history.

"Revenge" State Championship Frozen Four 03/02/16

Rams 1 Middletown North 0

For the first time in several years, the Rams headed into the Frozen Four matchup a heavy underdog. Their opponent, Middletown North, was the Star Ledger's fourth ranked team in the State behind only CBA, Delbarton and Don Bosco - the highest ranking ever for a Public B school. Defending State Champion Middletown North only had two one-goal losses all year and both to the top ranked team in the State, CBA. The Lions were returning predominately the same squad that defeated the Rams in the previous year's State Championship game. The Rams, on the other hand, lost two-time Star Ledger Player of the year Alex Whelan as well as nine other seniors to graduation. The Rams also ushered in a new coaching era under Dean Portas who replaced legendary coach Bob Toy who had retired. Competing for State Championships were expected in previous seasons but not necessarily this one.

The first period was an even contest - much like two boxers getting a feel for each other in the early rounds. The best scoring opportunity of the period was by Rams' Kyle Debel who shot the puck wide past a sprawling Lions goaltender toward the end of the period.

The second period was a showcase for the Rams defensive play led by Captain Brandon O'Callahan. The Rams stifled the Lions vaunted offensive and kept Division I commits Bobby Hampton and Khristian Acosta out-of-synch and in check.

Senior Captain Garrett Mast ignited Rams Nation about four minutes into the third period when he ripped a shot glove-side high into the back of the net to break the scoreless contest. The Rams entered the offensive zone with an odd man break and Senior Kyle Debel found an open Mast in the high slot. This would be the only shot on goal for the Rams in the third. It would be the only shot they needed. The rest of the period belonged to Rams Senior goaltender Tyler Harmon.

After the Rams took the lead, Middletown North pressed the action for the remainder of the game desperately trying to net the equalizer to at least send the contest into overtime. But each time the Lions knocked on the the door, it was Harmon who answered. Making several key saves especially down the stretch, the heralded goalie locked down the victory for the Rams. Middletown North came into the contest averaging seven goals per game. This was the first time they were shut-out all year.

Our Rams would go on to defeat Glen Rock 5-1 in the Final to capture its second State Championship in the program's history. Along the way, the Rams would outscore their opponents 30-3 in five State Championship Tournament games with Harmon posting three shutouts.

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