Ice hockey completes underdog story in Empire Conference Championship

The Roadrunners were underdogs, but don’t tell them that. From the first game of the season until the overtime win in Sunday’s championship game versus Fairfield University, the Roadrunners believed they could be hoisting the Empire Conference trophy at the end of the year, and here they are.

It wasn’t an easy season for Ramapo. Not many teams could lose 13 games in a 16-game span and still come out champions, but the Roadrunners did it. Ramapo had to win their final two games of the season to qualify for the Empire Conference playoffs, and they ran with that opportunity.

“We’ve had an up and down season and to finally put it together was a great feeling,” team captain Eddie Dahdah said. 

Ramapo celebrated at center ice following Dressler’s game-winner. Photo courtesy of RCNJ Ice Hockey

Entering the four-team playoffs, the No. 4 Roadrunners’ first matchup was against the No. 1 seed Farmingdale State College, a team Ramapo lost to three times in the regular season. Entering the game, Ramapo was well aware of the fact that they’ve never beaten Farmingdale in regulation in program history. That fact changed Saturday night when the Roadrunners took care of business in a dominating 5-2 victory.

After a scoreless first period, alternate captain Rory Maurer fired one past the pads of Farmingdale’s Jake Temkin. The Rams answered back later in the period to tie it up, courtesy of a Joseph Minio goal. With one minute to play in the second period, Empire Conference MVP Trent Shanley rocketed one in off assists from Dahdah and senior Holden Gruber, giving the Roadrunners a 2-1 lead.

Early in the third period, senior Peter Paszkiel gave Ramapo a 3-1 lead off assists from seniors Anthony Fizer and Shane Lovell. Three minutes later, Christopher Dressler scored his first goal of the tournament off assists from Shanley and alternate captain Rick Kimble.

“It was a surreal moment. All the work we put in since September paid off, and to do it when not many people expected us to make noise makes it so much better.”

– Trent Shanley

The dagger for Ramapo came at the 10-minute mark of the period when Shanley knocked through his second goal of the night, giving the Roadrunners a 5-1 lead.

Farmingdale added a power play goal late courtesy of Timothy Duffy, but it would be too little too late as the Roadrunners pulled off the upset. Denis McGarry continued his outstanding season, saving 29 of the 31 shots the Rams attempted.

Hours before the match, Shanley was named Empire MVP after an outstanding season, leading the conference in goals (28), assists (28) and points (56). Also taking home hardware for the Roadrunners were Dahdah and Kimble, who were both named First Team All-Empire along with Shanley.

Up next for Ramapo was the heavy task of facing No. 2 Fairfield, who defeated Quinnipiac University to advance to the finals. Similar to Farmingdale, the Roadrunners lost to the Stags in all three regular-season matchups.

In what was sure to be a physical matchup, the Stags came out of the gates hot, firing 19 shots on McGarry in the first period. Fairfield got on the board early as Connor Morrow scored just three minutes into the game off an assist from Vincent Spaziante. Less than four minutes later, Dressler scored the equalizer on a breakaway opportunity off an assist from Shanley.

Captain Eddie Dahdah was the first one presented with the trophy following the team’s win. Photo courtesy of RCNJ Ice Hockey

Tied at one apiece midway through the second period, Gruber gave the Roadrunners their first lead of the game off a setup from Dressler and Maurer. With six minutes remaining in the second, Dahdah found a breakaway chance and took advantage, scoring his first goal of the tournament off an assist from Shanley. Up 3-1, the dream of a championship was beginning to take shape for the Roadrunners, but Fairfield wouldn’t go down easy.

With three minutes to play in the second, Mark Vaughan brought the Stags to within one, off assists from William Kidd and Connor Momrow. Five minutes into the third period, Brendan Cullen tied the game at three for Fairfield.

The Roadrunners had to survive three power play opportunities for the Stags in the third period, but outstanding goaltending from McGarry kept Ramapo alive and sent the game to overtime. In 72 minutes, McGarry tallied 58 saves on 61 Fairfield shots.

Despite Fairfield controlling the puck for the majority of overtime, the Roadrunners finally got an opportunity in the Stags’ zone at the eight-minute mark. Maurer sent a beautiful set up to Dressler in front of the net. Dressler ripped it under the pads of Fairfield’s Eric Dillner, and the Roadrunners were champions.

Gloves and helmets flew off, sticks went in the air as the Roadrunners dogpiled in the middle of the ice. The team that had to fight for their spot in the tournament pulled off upsets on back-to-back nights. Dahdah was the first to be handed the trophy as he delivered it to the team.

“Winning the division is something we have been trying to tackle for almost four years now, so finally taking home the hardware was a huge moment for the boys and the program,” Dahdah said.

“It was a surreal moment,” said Shanley. “All the work we put in since September paid off, and to do it when not many people expected us to make noise makes it so much better.”

The story of this Ramapo ice hockey season revolves around vengeance. After losing to Farmingdale in the championship game one year ago and being swept in the regular season by their two playoff opponents, the Roadrunners finally stand alone on the top of the Empire – they are champions.

Featured photo courtesy of RCNJ Ice Hockey