CHATHAM, NJ - It may have only been the first game of the season, but Chatham ice hockey coach Brendon Herr began to see the potential of his young team in a gutsy 2-1 win over Kinnelon on Saturday.

After giving up the first goal, the Cougars played with veteran poise and scored two goals in the third period to complete the comeback. However, it was the defense that sparked the comeback with a crucial penalty kill early in that third period.

“We believe that a good defense creates great offense,” Herr said. “If our defense can force takeaways and get the puck to our speed guys up front, then we’ll be an effective team.”

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The next test for the young Cougars will be their 8:15 p.m. Thursday date with Randolph at Mennen Arena.

Leading the way on the scoresheet vs. Kinnelon for Chatham would be a senior, a junior and a sophomore. Senior center Sam Ortolani scored the game-tying, short-handed goal with just over 11 minutes to go while junior Thomas Winter tallied the game-winner with 2:01 showing. Assisting on both goals would be sophomore Evan Schmidt, now in his second season at the varsity level.

However, Herr credited a strong effort in net from senior James Boles as the “X-factor” in the winning effort. He came up with 28 saves in the victory.

“If you look up and down our conference, every team has very good goaltending and it’s consistent,” Herr said. “I think for us to be effective and to win games, then we need that all season from not only Boles, but Zach Pendergast as well.”

Still, one thing that this team will battle throughout the season is the losses they’ve suffered. Brendan Darby, the team’s leading scorer last season, is now at prep school. Meanwhile, captain Jeff Haley now has to miss time due to injury.

The void created by the loss of veteran players is partly being filled by a trio of freshmen, Dan Mahoney, David Andreychuk and Alex Laferriere, all earning varsity experience.

“There’s definitely some holes to fill and the ball is in their court,” Herr said. “All our guys are very skilled hockey players, they’re smart, and we have all the confidence in the world that they can play well.”

Despite coming away with a positive result in the season opener, Herr is still stressing the importance of “trusting the process” as the season progresses.

“We use those words all the time,” Herr said. “When we do play our system the right way, then we’ll be very successful.”