STOCKHOLM, NJ - The Chatham ice hockey team will be tested severely this season.
Not only are the Cougars young but they will have the proverbial target on their back as the defending Public B state champions.
One of those teams that are chomping at the bit to take on Chatham is Morris County Secondary Schools Ice Hockey League rival, Kinnelon, a team that the Cougars defeated and tied last season.
But on Saturday at the Skylands Ice World in Stockholm, Kinnelon handed Chatham a 4-2 loss in the season opener for the Cougars (1-0).
Despite the loss Chatham sophomore goalie Jordan Boles played well in the nets and made 29 saves in the contest. "Jordan played very well and kept us in the game," said Cougars head coach Harvey Cohen.
Chatham will continue its tough schedule when they take on Morristown-Beard on Tuesday at 8 p.m. at the Mennen Sports Arena in Morristown. The game will be filmed by MSG Varsity and be shown on Thursday night. The Cougars split last season with Morristown-Beard in the Morris County league.
Cohen knows that this will be a learning experience for his team at least in the first part of the 2011-12 season. "First understanding that 14-15 of the players were playing in their first varsity game," said Cohen who knows that this is a new year and the title was last year. "We're learning and growing."
Last season, the Cougars went 22-3-3 and defeated Middletown South, 7-3, to win the New Jersey Public B state title.
But from that there were at least a dozen seniors who graduated.
Despite all that, Cohen and Chatham was tied at two with the Colts after senior forward Trip Burke slipped a shot by Kinnelon goalie Thomas Huber with eight minutes remaining in the contest.
But like inexperienced teams will be, the Colts took advantage of it as they went down the rink and regained the lead when Kinnelon's Brian Kruser tipped in a Hunter Ledwith shot by Boles.
Chatham was back down again, this time 3-2 with 7:42 remaining in the game.
The Cougars gained a power play with 6:30 remaining in the game, but Chatham freshman Bryn Casey was sent into the penalty box 40 seconds later to nullify the power play.
After the Cougars killed off the penalty, they were looking to pull Boles, but they never got to that as Kinnelon's Ryan O'Keefe tipped in a Vinny Polidoro shot at the blue line to put Chatham down 4-2 with a little more than three minutes remaining.
While Boles was stellar in net, the Cougars played well on the penalty kill especially in the second period led by Brian Leonard, Colby Collier, Robert Graziano and Scott Kepler.
The penalty kill late in the second period led to a Collier goal as he was able to get the rebound and kneed a shot by Kinnelon goalie Huber to tie the game at one with a little more than four minutes left in second period.
But Kinnelon took advantage of the power play as Brian Gnad placed a shot by Boles only 57 seconds into the third period to put the Cougars down 2-1.