1973-74 The First League

Having successfully competed against collegiate competition as an independent team in its inaugural season, Ramapo was ready to move on to the more competitive environment of league play. However, the only local league, MIHL, comprised teams that would have been more than challenging for the year-old Roadrunners. Team morale would have been destroyed by blow out after blow out.

Fortunately, a number of local schools were also looking to join a league in which they could be competitive. Coaches and team representatives met to formulate the rules and regulations for a new league. After much deliberation, the New Jersey Intercollegiate Hockey League (NJIHL) was formed. Ramapo Head Coach Jim Barrow was elected President. The charter members were Ramapo College, Wagner College, Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU), William Paterson College (WPC), Upsala College, Livingston College, The New Jersey College of Medicine and Dentistry (NJCMD), and Newark College of Engineering (NCE).

Barrow was optimistic and eager for the season to start. With eleven players returning from last year’s team, Ramapo had enough experienced players to be a contender. The team’s main goal was to make the League playoffs. A League title would be icing on the cake.

Ramapo opened the season with a closely fought 2-1 defensive battle against the New Jersey College of Medicine and Dentistry, followed by a 15-3 destruction of Brookdale Community College. The Roadrunners were off to a quick 2-0 start. In game three, FDU dominated play, but it took a late third period goal by the Knights to salvage a 3-3 tie. This was the season that established the fierce rivalry between the two Bergen County schools. There was no love lost when these teams took the ice against each other. Every game was a hard-fought sellout. In the next game against Upsala, Ramapo took a 2-1 lead into the third period, but then had to settle for a second consecutive tie, 2-2. Undefeated at 2-0-2, Ramapo shared first place with Wagner.

In the first hockey game between New Jersey State College teams, Ramapo came away with the bragging rights, defeating WPC 7-3. The victory upped Ramapo’s undefeated record to 3-0-2. Sadly, the quest for an undefeated season and sole possession of first place came to an abrupt end with losses to Wagner, 4-3 and FDU, 4-2. Then, after a forfeit win at the expense of NJCMD, Ramapo met Upsala for a second time that season and skated away with a come­ from-behind 5-3 victory.

Ramapo anticipated a cakewalk against Brookdale at Brick Township after annihilating the Blazers 15-3 in game two. But this was not the same Brookdale team that the Roadrunners had faced earlier. Additional quality players were added to the Brookdale roster, which made a dramatic difference. A last minute goal gave the Blazers an 8-7 victory.

At 5-3-2, the Roadrunners put together a three­game winning streak. After a 5-1 victory over Livingston, the Roadrunners took the rubber game against Brookdale 6-5. Game three of the streak was a 3-0 whitewashing of NCE. Ramapo and Brookdale were in a tie for third place while FDU and Wagner were battling for first. The team was maturing with each game.

As they neared their meeting with FDU, the 8-3-2 Roadrunners gave up a last minute goal to 3-7-2 WPC and had to settle for a 5-5 tie. A third period jinx struck again in the FDU game. With a minute remaining in the game, Fairleigh pulled their goalie. With a sixth skater, the Knights scored on a rebound with twenty-eight seconds remaining in the game to even the score at 2. For the second time in one season, the frustrated Roadrunners lost a late-game lead and settled for a disappointing tie.

With just five games remaining on the regular season schedule, Ramapo had to make their move. They had squandered several opportunities to take over first place, and their game with Wagner would be their last chance to make it to the top. With every­ thing at stake, the Roadrunners chose a bad time to play poorly. Wagner dominated play from the outset to easily win 6-1. The loss dropped Ramapo to third place in the standings.

Ramapo would have to win their remaining games and hope that the other three contenders, Brookdale, FDU, and Wagner would knock each other off. The Roadrunners did their part, winning all four remaining games. Their first victim was Upsala 6-3, followed by a victory over NCE, 7-2. Ramapo officially clinched a playoff berth with a 7-4 victory over the NJCMD. Goalie Art Chill, shutout Livingston 6-0 in the final game of the regular season. Ironically, that was the same score of the final game of the previous year when Chill shutout Brookdale 6-0. For the second consecutive year, Ramapo ended the season on a winning streak. An eager, confident Roadrunners team entered post-season play.

Despite a strong finish in which the Roadrunners were 7-1-2 in their final ten games, the team finished in fourth place in the NJIHL with a 12-4-4 record, just 4 points out of first. The League had hoped for parity and was not disappointed. Brookdale came in first (15-3-2) with 32 points, followed by FDU (14-3-3) with 31 points, followed by Wagner (14-4-2) with 30 points. Ramapo made the final playoff spot with 28 points.

In their initial playoff appearance against first place Brookdale, the Roadrunners lost to the Blazers, in spite of goalie Art Chill’s 56 saves. Although game two was played on enemy ice and marred with penalties, the Roadrunners prevailed 6-5. Back home for the final game, Ramapo hoped to advance to the finals, but instead ended the season with a disappointing 5-2 loss.

In the other semi-finals round, Wagner eliminated FDU bringing Brookdale and Wagner together in the first NJIHL finals. In the last minute of the third period of the second game, the fighting that had sporadically broken out throughout the game finally erupted into a bench-emptying riot. The League ruled that the playoffs would end at that point and no League champion would be declared. Although the first season of the NJIHL ended with a blemish, the League as a whole was a resounding success, bringing additional high-caliber collegiate hockey to the New York metropolitan area.

In this the inaugural year of league play, Ramapo’s 1973-74 team set a standard of performance that would lead to League championships in the next two seasons.