Mounties captain Eamonn Thall celebrates one of his two goals with the crowd during MHS’ 5-2 win over crosstown rival MKA on Dec. 12.

by Andrew Garda

A battle on the ice between the Montclair High School and Montclair Kimberley Academy hockey teams will always be something to watch, and the most recent one last Thursday, Dec. 12, was no exception, with the Mounties coming out on top 5-2 in front of a packed Clary Anderson Arena.

MHS came into the game having won its first two games of the season, both by 2-1 scores against West Essex and Livingston, while the Cougars were trying to break into the win column for the first time this season and stop a four-game losing streak.

But neither team’s record showed when the teams hit the ice, as MKA kept the Mounties offense frustrated and the game close for the first two periods,  before Montclair pulled away with three goals in the final frame.

Second year Mountie head coach Mark Janifer said that while his team seemed to start slow, it was really just a great effort by MKA’s squad.

 “I think that they did come out with a lot of energy.  This is a huge rivalry game, and you’re going to come out fired up. I think [MKA] played their hearts out.”

His players agreed.

“In a big rivalry game like this, you never know what’s going to happen,” said senior captain Eamonn Thall, who had two goals on the night, bringing his total to four so far this season. “Previous records, they don’t mean as much. It just comes down to how you prepare, and we did exactly what we wanted to do, wear them down and finish them off in the second and third period.”

MKA’s biggest issue this season is their small roster, which leaves them with few players to tap for substitution as the game progresses, and many of those players are a little less experienced than previous years. 

Montclair took the lead early with a Kellum Foster-Palmer goal with 9:20 left in the first period. The Mounties kept attacking the MKA net, but were frustrated again and again by the early play of freshman goaltender Imanuel Pantow. While he would eventually let in five goals, he turned aside many more shots and kept his team in the game early. That bought MKA enough time for fellow freshman Ethan Potash to tie the game early in the second period.

MHS’ Kellum Foster-Palmer checks MKA’s Robbie DiGeronimo off the puck during the Dec. 12 game between the crosstown rivals. The Mounties would beat the Cougars 5-2.

The two teams went back and forth across the ice, with the packed stands filled with their family and friends howling the entire time. The noise reached a crescendo when, with just 1:40 left in the second period, Brett Janifer took a shot from the point and beat Pantow to give MHS a 2-1 lead.

Thall added to the Mounties’ lead early in the third period, when redirected a shot from the point into the net.

“Every time one of our points gets it, I’m always trying to get in front, look for tips, look for rebounds,” Thall said. “And on that one I just stuck my stick in the right place and it went off and went top corner.”

“I think it was a pass from the far side. I kind of caught it with my forehand, shielded it from the [goalie], brought it all the way to my backhand and shot it. The goalie made a great save with his right pad, but I got the rebound and fired it home.”

Just a few minutes later, Thall put in his own rebound for his second goal of the night to make it 4-1. 

“I think it was a pass from the far side. I kind of caught it with my forehand, shielded it from the goalie, brought it all the way to my backhand and shot it,” Thall recalled. “The goalie made a great save with his right pad, but I got the rebound and fired it home.”

Despite the lead MHS kept the pressure up, continually peppering Pantow with shot after shot until junior Katie Newkirk redirected a James Kaz shot from the edge of the offensive zone past the MKA goaltender to make it 5-1.

MHS junior Katie Newkirk, center, celebrates her first ever varsity goal with Jared Topf, left, and Eamonn Thall, right during the Mounties’ 5-2 win over MKA on Dec 12, 2019.

It was Newkirk’s first goal as a member of the varsity team.

“It was kind of weird, because I thought it was Kaz [who scored],” Newkirk said after the game. “I didn’t think it was me, so I was watching him celebrate, but then the ref told me it was me. So it was funny.”

Like Thall, Newkirk credited her goal with being where she was supposed to be.

“I saw that Eamonn actually won it off the draw and gave it back to Kaz,” she said. “And if the point has it you just want to make sure you get in front of the goalie and make sure they can’t see. I was able to get in front of him and get my stick on it. It was nice to finally get one in.”

“I think her saying that, that it was a little lucky, is indicative of her personality and how unassuming she is,” Janifer said. “Katie has a very high hockey acumen. She has a great offensive IQ. She sees the ice very well, she handles the puck well, she can find open people and she has a knack of being in the right place at the right time. She can call it being lucky, but I don’t call it being lucky.”

Michael Bronstein added a consolation goal for the Cougars later in the period to make the score 5-2, where it would stay until the final horn.

Janifer has been very pleased with his team so far this year, especially Thall, who has played exceedingly well during the young season.

“He’s playing fantastic,” Janifer said. “He’s got a work ethic and an engine like you wish any player had. He’s always working as hard as he can to make things happen, and on top of that, he has great vision and great size. He’s not a selfish player so those aren’t selfish goals he’s scoring. Those are just good goals that he’s able to finish.”

The Mounties did run into their first hiccup on Tuesday, Dec. 17, when they dropped a 4-1 decision to McInnis Division favorite Summit. MHS trailed just 2-1 heading into the third period, and received a big-time game from goalie Lucas Podvey, who saved 41 shots. Brett Janifer scored the lone MHS goal, assisted by George Osterberg.