STOCKHOLM, NJ - After a disappointing 2018-19 season which saw the Montville ice hockey team miss the state tournament after winning the Haas Cup the year prior, starting this season fast was of the utmost importance.
The internal expectations for this team were high going into this season with a strong returning core of players, led by captains Daniel Scheine, Matt Swagulinski, Joe Nuzzi, and goalie Adrian Prelich, who all were a part of that Haas Cup team two seasons ago. Now, with a 3-0-1 start to the season, it has its sights set on making a run at the Halvorsen Division title.
The team's latest win came on Saturday night, where it took control with a big second period, before hanging onto the lead despite multiple penalties in the third in a 6-2 win over Vernon at Skylands Ice World.
Senior captain Daniel Scheine recorded a hat trick, while Connor Perez, Brendan Perretta, and Matthew Crowell each scored. The win put Montville in good shape early on in the Halvorsen Division race, with a 2-0-1 divisional record thus far.
“It’s huge. We’re in first place now in the Halvorsen," Senior Joe Nuzzi said. "Going into this game, we knew they were going to bring it. They’re always a good team and they always get a lot of people to come to the game. It’s rowdy, it’s loud, and we just worked our butts off and put the pucks in the back of the net and won.”
The team fell behind in the first period, as it surrendered a shorthanded goal to Vernon's T.J. Santaita. But it was quick to respond, as Perez finished off a nice passing sequence on the power play just 22 seconds later to tie it up.
Scheine made his presence felt in the second period, as he gave Montville the lead at the 10:16 mark, before adding another with 3:36 to go in the period. Perretta chipped in with another just 30 seconds later, extending Montville's lead to three. Although it gave up a late goal in the period, it found itself in good shape with a two-goal lead going into the third.
Then, the penalties began.
The final 8:30 of the game largely saw Montville on the penalty kill, as it had two separate 5-on-3 situations, as well as a five minute major penalty assessed against the team. But the squad's penalty kill unit, led by Perretta, Scheine, and Nuzzi, did a nice job blocking shots and taking away passing lanes for Vernon, and allowed very few grade-A chances to reach goalie Adrian Prelich.
“We just didn’t want to let up any big shots," Scheine said. "We had a guy back door that we wanted to cover, and our big guys put bodies in front of the puck. Our goalie was making big saves at the end and really kept us in the game. We had the shorthanded goal at the end which really helped our momentum, which was great.”
Finally, towards the tail end of the five-minute major, Scheine completed the hat trick with a shorthanded goal which was a key insurance goal.
“We played really gutsy," Scheine said. "We forechecked hard. We went hard on the puck and kept feeding the guys in the middle. Our big guys stepped up. Our penalty kill was amazing, we killed off double-digit penalties, the five-minute at the end, we killed everything off. It was just a good game all-around.”
It was a key win for a team that was beaten by this very Vernon squad twice last season, en route to a first-place finish. In the early part of the season, Montville has already claimed wins over the Halvorsen Cup champion from last year (Kinnelon) and the regular-season divisional champion in Vernon.
“Right now, our goals are simple. It’s just one game at a time," Montville coach Alex Beatrice said. "You want to compete and put yourself in a position to be seeded well in the playoffs, and we have a pretty senior team with a lot of veteran guys. Our goal is to win, just like everyone. It’s a tough league, every night you’re playing a tough team, but you just have to come ready to battle every night and I think our guys are doing a good job of that so far.”
Beatrice added, “At the end of the year, you’ve got to make sure you’re consistent. It’s great to start really well, but we want to make sure we’re doing the same thing we are now in February.”
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