Brennan’s two late goals propel Verona-Glen Ridge into Public C semis

When Verona-Glen Ridge was in desperate need of a spark, it was no surprise who she turned to.

When you have the state’s second-leading scorer on your team, that’s a pretty easy call. After allowing an equalizer against Jackson Liberty-Point Pleasant Boro in their public Group C quarter-final, the sheer talent and skill of Rowan Brennan took over for Verona-Glen Ridge.

Brennan scored both a power-play goal and a shorthanded goal in the final seven minutes to lift fourth-seeded Verona-Glen Ridge to a 3-1 win over fifth-seeded Jackson Liberty-Point Pleasant Boro Monday Night at Codey Arena in West Orange.

“It’s crazy,” Brennan said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It doesn’t happen often with a group of guys like that. We’re just going to keep pushing until we get to the Prudential Center and we’re looking for that state championship.

“This group is amazing,” Verona-Glen Ridge head coach Ken Lilien said. “They always find a way through. The game was a bit choppy. Jackson had us on our heels and I thought they were playing a really smart game. The guys replied, and what about Rowan Brennan? He’s a big player, he’s competitive and when we need something big he steps in. All my guys did their job.

A team that finished last season with a 5-7 record has had an incredible turnaround and will face top-seeded Morris Knolls in the semifinals.

“We have so much courage,” Brennan said. “Every guy works so hard. It’s amazing with these guys.

In a tightly contested game throughout, VGR were leading 1-0 midway through the third period when JL-PB converted on a two-on-one run as Quinn Daudelin found Julian Caruso in front for the equalizer .

For a battle-tested VGR team that arrived with a 20-4-3 record and a Kelly Cup title to their name, a bit of adversity was just brushed aside. Just over two minutes into the game, Brennan took control on a power play.

He took the puck behind the blue line in the JL-PB zone, shoving his way through several defenders before aiming for the top shelf, which he punched through to give VGR a 2-1 lead with 6: 47 to go.

“It was just a loose puck, then I picked it up right in front of the defensemen and saw my spot,” Brennan said. “The blocker side is my spot, so I saw it open and got the opportunity.”

An interference call went against VGR with 2:33 remaining, but Brennan made sure it didn’t result in the match being tied up again. He forced a turnover from the penalty spot and found himself on a breakaway in which a fanciful stick manipulation resulted in a goal to put the game away with 46 seconds left.

Pyotr Sysak scored the first goal of the game in the second period for VGR to break up a scoreless draw by Brennan and Will Benson. Junior Eli Gottlieb won a huge net for VGR with 34 saves on 35 shots. VGR was outscored 35-28 on the match and it was a mostly evenly played match against an unknown opponent.

“Eli Gottlieb is so calm there and never gets rattled,” Lilien said. “Even after scoring the goal to equalize, he made a few big saves. I think he made two breakaway saves. He sets up the boys and does the job.

In Lilien’s ninth season as head coach, this is the first time VGR has reached the state semifinals. It’s a program that has never won a state championship in its history, and the players feel the kind of history they have the potential to make.

“It’s such a family in there,” Lilien said. “I have juniors, sophomores and freshmen supporting these seniors who have done everything for this program. They want to get to Prudential. I think we are the best team in the group and someone is going to have a big game to stop us.

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