MONTVILLE, NJ - After his team’s 4-1 victory over Mountain Lakes in the Haas Cup semifinal on Monday, Montville ice hockey head coach Alex Beatrice said that whoever plays the hardest from the opening puck drop to the final buzzer will win the Haas Cup on Thursday.
In the end, the team that did that was his Montville Mustangs as they defeated the Whippany Park Wildcats 4-0 at Mennen Sports Arena to claim the Haas Cup title. Freshman goalie Adrian Prelich shined in his first championship start in net as he made 13 saves to shut out Whippany Park while his teammates scored half of their goals on the power play.
Montville struck first when Danny Scheine scored the first goal of the game off an assist from Nick Mangano just over two minutes into the first period. Although they wouldn’t score for the remainder of the period, Scheine’s goal helped set the tone for the rest of the game.
“We had to make sure that this was our best game of the year so far,” Beatrice said. “That first goal got our confidence up and we just rode that wave of momentum for the whole game.”
The Mustangs came out of the intermission and added another goal at the 3:27 mark of the second period as senior captain Jon Cuozzo was able to get the puck past Chris Schneider to extend the lead to 2-0.
“It all happened pretty quickly,” Cuozzo said with a chuckle. “Joe Nuzzi chipped it out in front and I was lucky enough to get my stick on it and put it in.”
With time winding down in the period, Whippany Park appeared to have scored to get it back down to a one-goal game on a shot that zoomed past Prelich from beyond the blue line, but it was waved off due to an offside call.
“We just wanted to keep our agenda solid after that happened,” Beatrice said. “I think we did a good job of sticking to our game plan, so that really didn’t affect what we were doing.”
With a 2-0 lead entering the final period, Montville’s veteran leaders knew that they had to play their best period of the season in order to leave Mennen Sports Arena with the Haas Cup and they delivered. Joe Nuzzi, who assisted on the previous goal, scored just over three minutes into the period on the power play.
“We just knew that the Haas Cup was on the line and this was our last chance as seniors,” Cuozzo said. “I think we just rallied together to finish what we started.”
However, the Mustangs accumulated multiple penalties afterward that forced them to go on the penalty kill for a decent portion of the third period. Luckily, their PK unit kept the Wildcats off the scoreboard and limited their shots on goal while on the power play.
“Brendan Perretta was a stud on the defensive end tonight,” Beatrice said. “He’s probably one of the best penalty killers I’ve ever seen.”
With one more power play opportunity in the waning minutes of regulation, co-captain Nick Mangano delivered the dagger for the second straight game with only 18 seconds remaining that sealed the deal for Montville’s first championship of any kind since 2015.
“A couple of us were on that team as freshmen,” Mangano said. “It’s just a great feeling knowing that all our hard work paid off and it definitely showed in this game.”
The Mustangs will have some time to celebrate this victory, but they will hit the ice for state playoff action on Thursday when they face Glen Rock, who won a state championship just last season.
“We’re just going to take it one day at a time,” Beatrice said. “We’re obviously going to have some fun tonight and enjoy this, then we’ll be right back to work in practice to get ready for a really good Glen Rock team.”
This sectional playoff game will be played at the Ice House in Hackensack with Montville looking to extend their win streak to seven. They will look to redeem themselves from what happened the last time they played there back on December 29 when they played to a disappointing 2-2 tie against Paramus Catholic after losing a 2-0 lead in the first period. Game time is scheduled for 4:15 p.m.
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