Montclair Kimberley’s Sam Rotella (10) bears down on Millburn goalie Eli Nadell. The fifth-seeded MKA defeated fourth-seeded Millburn, 4-1, in the first round of the Kelly Cup on Friday at the Codey Arena in West Orange.

Ed Kensik for Montclair Local

Hopes that the 2021 Montclair Kimberley ice hockey team would get a long run at the end of the season received a big boost at the end of last week. But those hopes were dashed on Monday with a loss in the Kelly Cup.

The Cougars avenged an early season loss to Millburn with a dominating 4-1 victory in the first round of the tournament Friday at Codey Arena. Freshman forward Gary Hu had a pair of goals, and sophomore goalie Pantow Immanuel made 25 saves to preserve the win.

Unfortunately, fifth-seeded MKA’s season ended with a 7-1 loss to top seed Governor Livingston on Monday.

The win over Millburn came on the heels of a tough 4-3 loss to the Millers at home earlier last week.

And the way it started on Friday in the teams’ second meeting, it appeared that there might be a repeat, this time in the tournament.

Just as in the regular-season game, Millburn took a 1-0 lead in the first period after Millers top gun Duncan Stewart scored.

But MKA head coach Tim Cook said that the team did not get down after being behind and that the Cougars had several chances in the first period, only to come up empty.

“We weren’t deflated,” Cook said about giving up the initial goal. “We just wanted to stick to the game plan and do the right things.”

For the MKA coach there were three things to do against the Millers: take away time and space from their best players, make smart plays, and get puck and players to the front of the net early and often.

Millburn’s first strike was where it would end for its offense, as the Cougar attack got going and the defense, including the goalie play of Immanuel, kept the Millers at bay. MKA also clamped down on Stewart, who had a hat trick in the last game.

Immanuel had been at the other end of the decision a week before, where he gave up four goals. “Just keep on doing what you do and don’t give up,” Immanuel said about the talk during the game.

It did not take long for MKA to finally turn its chances into a goal, as Hu shocked Millburn when he took the puck in the first 17 seconds of the second period and slid a shot to the left of Millers goalie Eli Nadell and into the net.

The Cougars did not stop there, continuing to put the pressure on Millburn and Nadell.

Three minutes later the MKA attack bore more fruit as junior Michael Bronstein tipped in a shot by senior defender Max Bock to give Montclair Kimberley a 2-1 lead. MKA outshot Millburn 24-18 in the first two periods.

Montclair Kimberley teammates surround Michael Bronstein who scored what would turn out to be the game winner against Millburn. The fifth-seeded MKA defeated fourth-seeded Millburn, 4-1, in the first round of the Kelly Cup on Friday at the Codey Arena in West Orange.

On the other end, Immanuel kept the Millers out of the back of the net while MKA continued to pelt Nadell with shots.

In the third period, the Cougars took advantage of a quick start to catch Millburn off guard. This time it was MKA’s top scorer, freshman Sam Rotella, whose slap shot went to the upper left of Nadell for a 3-1 lead.

“We wanted that momentum and we got it,” Cook said about scoring early in the period.

For MKA, though, the critical time might have come just 40 seconds later, when the team had to kill off a penalty.

Both Immanuel and Hu came through to deny Millburn. Hu killed off at least 30 seconds of the Millers’ power play with his possession of the puck.

And MKA never looked back.

Hu added the second of his two goals with an empty-netter with less than two minutes remaining in the game for a 4-1 advantage.