MORRIS TOWNSHIP, NJ - Everything was lined up for a special night for the Montville ice hockey team on Saturday night.
Not only was it senior night, a night where the team's six seniors were celebrated, but the team had an opportunity to claim a division title. Going into Saturday's game with Kinnelon, the Mustangs needed a win to overtake Roxbury and win the Halvorsen Division, as well as clinch the top seed in the upcoming Halvorsen Cup.
Montville, for all intents and purposes, controlled its own destiny.
But this Kinnelon squad- which came into the game in last place in the division and with a 1-12-3 overall record- had little to lose with it already aware that it won't be playing in the state tournament, and could not improve its Halvorsen Cup seed even with a win.
While Montville put 33 shots on goal, it had a hard time solving Kinnelon's standout goaltender in Brett Lewis. It surrendered the tying goal late in the second period, before Kinnelon jumped ahead late in the third, and Montville suffered a 2-1 defeat at Mennen Arena.
The loss denied Montville of the Halvorsen Division title and the top seed in the Halvorsen Cup. That distinction now belongs to Roxbury, and Montville will be the second seed in the tournament.
"Everything (went wrong)," Montville coach Alex Beatrice said. "Those guys are a way better team than their record reflects, that’s for sure. Towards the end of the year, we knew they were keeping it close with a lot of good teams. We knew it’d be a battle and it wouldn’t be an easy one. I don’t think we showed up, really. We had a lot of shots but not really quality chances.”
Montville took a 1-0 lead late in the first period, when freshman Mikey Chang sniped one home from the left circle in the final two minutes, assisted by Matt Crowell. While it only held a one-goal lead, it seemed to be in control throughout as it dominated possession, despite not generating many grade-A opportunities against Lewis.
But Kinnelon put the pressure on, as Connor LaPenna tied the game up with 1:49 to go in the second, and suddenly Montville found itself in a position few could have expected going into this game. Things really took a turn for the worse with 5:36 left, when Kinnelon's Jared Fatzer's backhand shot went past Montville goalie Adrian Prelich, giving Kinnelon the lead for good.
Montville had opportunities in the third period to get another goal, including a 2-on-0 opportunity shorthanded which it was unable to capitalize on, as well as a power play in the final minute.
“(Lewis) is a great goalie," Beatrice said. "We want to try to get traffic in front of him, and we didn’t really do it at all. He played great. As you said, he’s one of the better goalies in the state, for sure. We’ve had a lot of trouble scoring goals this year. A lot of one-goal games. (Kinnelon) deserved to win. We didn’t deserve to win.”
Now, Montville will look ahead to the Halvorsen Cup, where it will look to claim its second cup title in three years after winning the Haas Cup in 2018. It will be the second seed, and it will face the winner of third seed Mendham and sixth seed Kinnelon in the semifinals on either Feb. 19 or 20.
"It’s going to be tough. Whoever we’re playing, everyone has gotten better all year in our league," Beatrice said. "It’s a tough league, so no matter what the seed was, the first game’s going to be a tough game. We made it a little bit tougher on ourselves though, for sure.”
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