MHS’ Ben Wakefield uses his body to shield the puck from defender Jarrett Dulemba during the Mounties 4-3 OT loss on Sunday, Feb. 25.

by Andrew Garda

The Montclair High School hockey season came to a sudden disappointing end Sunday night, as the team fell in overtime to the Colonia—JFK—Woodbridge tri-op in overtime,  4-3, at Clary Anderson Arena.

The game-winning goal came with 11 minutes left in the first period of overtime, as ninth-seeded Colonia won a faceoff in the Mounties’ end, and right winger T.J. Evan flicked a wrist shot towards the net.

MHS goaltender Gus Bylin didn’t seem to have a clear look at the shot, and the puck found its way into the net.

End of the game, end of the season.

Things had looked much different in the third period, when a goal from Eamon Thall with 7:40 left in regulation put the No. 1-seeded Mounties up 3-1. His score came off a nice feed from defenseman John Painter, during a stretch where Montclair’s crisp passing through the neutral zone had been creating plenty of opportunities in the offensive end.

But the Middlesex County school wasn’t about to lie down and give up, and less than a minute later, center Drew Galea threw the puck towards the net where it deflected off a Mountie stick and slipped past Bylin. Four minutes later, Montclair was attempting to clear the puck from their own end when it bounced off an official’s skate. Defender Travis Beni scooped up the deflection and threw it towards the net, where it again glanced off a Mountie and found its way into the net.

“There were plays where they just threw the puck at the net, which is good hockey from them, because late in the game when your down you want to do that to create chances,” coach Pat Verney said after the game. “They threw two pucks at the slot and one hit a stick and bounced in and one hit a skate and bounced in.”

I feel like this team deserved better but hats off to Colonia. They played an opportunistic game where they hung around.”

After the game-tying goal, the Mounties seemed to go in a bit of a shell, playing more dump and run on offense. Gone were the smoother passes through the neutral zone to create odd man rushes or create plays in the offensive zone. The tri-op team was the one on the offensive while the Mounties were playing on their heels.

Then came overtime, the faceoff and the loss.

The Mounties Brett Janifer tries to keep the puck away from Colonia-JFK-Woodbridge’s Garrett Ludwig during Montclair’s 4-3 overtime loss in the NJSIAA quarterfinals.

“You like to say with hockey that the puck luck evens out over the long hall,” Verney said, “but in a one game thing sometimes the puck luck doesn’t even out. And that’s not taking away anything from the team we just played. They did a nice job.”

The Mounties had come into the game red-hot on offense, having just defeated Mount Olive 5-0 while amassing an eye-popping 54 shots. They carried that offensive push over into Sunday’s game and over the course of both matches, the Mounties fired off 100 shots on opposing goalies.

In the end, they needed just one shot and it was one they didn’t get.

While the season didn’t end on a note he was happy with, Verney said that overall the season was successful.

“If you would have told us at the beginning of the year that we would be the number one seed in our bracket, I would have told you were crazy,” Verney said. “Beginning of the year as a staff, we sat down and we looked at our division schedule and we said man it’s going to be tough to qualify for states.”

Mounties goaltender Gus Bylin makes a save during the second period of MHS NJSIAA quarterfinals loss to Colonia-JFK-Woodbridge on Sunday, Feb. 25.

Verney credited the seniors on the team with much of the team’s regular season success.

“I can’t say enough good things about the senior group. Just a special group of kids,” Verney said. “Pat Ledgett’s leadership and play was brilliant, and he was one of the more dominant players that we’ve had in a long time. Great defensively, but also our leading scorer. He could have been MVP in our division, in my opinion. And the white line which is Dan [Korembaum], Cary [Collucci] and Jake [Skezewski], they epitomized what it means to be unselfish. Kori Conley and Conrad Sarbak bounced back from injuries and they were always team first guys for this season and they’re great kids. Myles Bylin was our second leading goal scorer on the team this year, which is not something a lot of people predicted. He was just tremendous this year. John Painter was just great defensively. We played three defensemen all year and Painter was a big part of why we could. Now he’s going to go be one of the better players on the lacrosse field.”

For Verney that makes it even harder, knowing how much the seniors had put into this season, only to fall short. Still, Verney feels that this year was still a success,

“The outlook of the year is that it’s a tremendous group of kids, with excellent senior leadership,” he said. “And they are the type of kids who will do great in life beyond ice hockey. They’re a group which understands it’s not always about them. They’re a special group of seniors and I’m going to miss them.”