by Andrew Garda
Entering last season, expectations were not terribly high for the Montclair High School ice hockey team, as it looked like the Mounties were poised to rebuild after graduating an enormously successful senior class.
As it turned out, MHS was much better than that, compiling 14 wins by building on a solid defense with key offensive contributions from players like the now-graduated Will Schiffenhaus.
With the calendar turning to the 2019-20 campaign, expectations are much higher for head coach Mark Janifer’s second season in charge of the Mounties.
Janifer is confident that if the team does what it is supposed to do, they can meet those expectations.
“I think the team is looking pretty good,” Janifer said after a recent practice. “Last year I don’t think people viewed Montclair as a top-notch threat, and so I think we were able to sneak up on some teams a little bit. I don’t think that’s going to be the case this year. I think teams are going to be ready to play us, I think teams are going to look forward to playing us and so if we’re not ready to go and don’t bring our ‘A’ game every day, it could end up not nice. It’s a little different year than it was last year and we have to be ready for that challenge.”
A big part of being up to the challenge comes down to the senior class.
“We have a stronger senior class than we had last year,” Janifer said. “Not because of an individual player, but it’s because we have more seniors. So, I’m looking for a lot of leadership from all of them.”
Kellum Foster-Palmer, Eamonn Thall, Brandon Silver, Lucas Podvey, Cody Brennan, Aidan Hsieh and Arthur Nintzel are all players who have been with the program for several years and know what is expected of them.
Of course, the lion’s share will come down to the captains, and Thall said that he, Podvey and Foster-Palmer are ready for the test.
“I want to take more of a leadership role this year,” said Thall, the Mounties’ leading returning scorer (13 goals, 11 assists last year). “We had Schiffenhaus last year as a captain, and I think me, Kellum and Podvey are going to step up as big leaders on the team. We just want to lead by example, be vocal and make sure the team is doing what they need to do so we can be successful.”
“That’s the strength,” Janifer said of the senior class. “That was one of the reasons that this year the expectations were always going to be higher than [they were for] last year, because we would have a larger number of seniors.”
Like Janifer, Thall feels good about those higher expectations.
“I think we can meet them, maybe even exceed them,” Thall said. “We’re definitely going to be better than last year, that’s the goal.”
Thall said it’s only true if the team stays on task and remains focus.
“We can’t let the expectations make us think we’re going to just walk through everything.”
Janifer echoed that sentiment.
“If we put the time and work in, I think we have the capability to do some good things this year,” he said. “But it’s not going to happen just because we show up.”
The hallmark of Montclair ice hockey has always been strong defense, and that continued to be true last season. The Mounties’ goals-against average was 2.30, the second-best mark in the NJIHL-McInnis Division behind Westfield’s 2.12. Last season, that defense kept them in games, holding 10 of their 27 opponents to one goal or less, and helped them survive a slow-forming offense. While Janifer hopes the offense hits the ice a bit faster this year, he knows that at its core, Mountie hockey will always be defensive-minded.
“Our foundation is to play strong D,” Janifer said. “We’re going to look to generate offense and get offensive opportunities from playing strong D.”
That strong defensive unit begins with Podvey, who will get the bulk of time in net. Behind him will be freshman Natalia Peterson, who will see some work in goal, but the team will look to Podvey to build on a great 2018-19 season.
With Podvey in net, the Mounties know they have stability and paired with several strong defensive line, the basis of another very solid Montclair team.
That being said, Thall would like to see the Mounties start out a little hotter on offense, and feels it’s critical that, as a team, Montclair gets on a roll early.
“It’s very important because at the end of the season, when you’re looking at playoff seeding, a lot of it comes back to the beginning of the season games where either we drop a game we shouldn’t have or get a big win maybe we weren’t favored. Those are the games that change the momentum for the whole season and the playoffs.”
The Mounties had their first chance to get rolling at home on Tuesday, Dec. 3 when they took on West Essex, finishing with a 2-1 win. As Janifer had hoped, his captains stepped up with Thall scoring twice and Podvey making 26 saves to preserve the win.
Montclair had another 2-1 over Livingston, this time on the strength of two Brett Janifer goals, both on power plays. Janifer’s first goal was assisted by Kellum Foster-Palmer and George Osterberg, while Thall got the assist on the second. Podvey faced 22 shots, allowing just one score, making his total 47 saves on 49 shots in two games.
The Mounties will face crosstown rival Montclair Kimberley Academy this Thursday, Dec. 12 at Clary Anderson Arena.
The puck drops at 3:45.