By ED KENSICK
The Montclair Kimberley Academy ice hockey team has moved on in the Kelly Cup, but they did not make it easy on themselves, and especially on junior goalie Imanuel Pantow.
The sticks were on fire for the third-seeded Cougars skaters as they jumped out to a 4-0 lead over sixth-seeded Oratory Prep after the first 15 minutes.
But the offense stalled after that, and the tickets to the penalty box started piling up for MKA, including two five-minute majors.
Despite two 5-on-3 disadvantages for MKA because of the major penalties, Pantow, along with the penalty killers, kept Oratory Prep at bay and won 5-2 on Friday at Clary Anderson Arena in Montclair.
The Cougars take on second-seeded Cranford in the Kelly Cup semifinals on Monday, Feb. 14. MKA raised its record for the season to 9-3-3.
For sophomore Sam Rotella the biggest goal this season was to bring some hardware home, especially the Kelly Cup title. “We know that we have the capability to win it,” Rotella said.
If they do win the tournament, it would be their first cup title since 2012, when MKA won the McInnis Cup.
The strong first-period start against Oratory gave MKA plenty of confidence. “I think when we put the first goal in, we went from there,” said Rotella, who notched the first goal within the first four minutes of the game with an assist from sophomore Geoff Vaiana and sophomore Gary Hu. “We knew that they were a good team and came to play.”
Rotella capped off the first period with a second goal to give MKA a 4-0 lead.
But after that the Cougars spent almost as much time on the penalty kill as at even strength, with the two five-minute majors in the second period. “We have to take accountability as a team and don’t take stupid penalties,” said Rotella, who committed one of the majors.
But he along with Vaiana, junior Anthony Zhang and junior Ethan Potash kept Oratory from getting close.
Unlike a minor penalty, a major penalty forces a team that receives it to be down a man for the entire five minutes.
In addition to the major penalties, MKA was twice down two skaters, 5 to 3, but in the end Oratory was only able to capitalize twice during those penalty kills.
Pantow was in fine form during the manpower disadvantages and made 23 saves in total.
He knew that a four-goal lead was not a sure thing for victory. “I have played in too many games to know that you have to play until the final buzzer,” he said. “We were talking about getting everything out of the zone and sticking together as a team.”
Along with Rotella’s two goals, fellow sophomore Jack MacEvoy chipped in three assists for MKA. Rotella and MacEvoy lead the Cougars in scoring with 45 and 39 points, respectively, after the win over Oratory.
“Rotella and MacEvoy bring a high work ethic and compete level every game,” MKA head coach Tim Cook said. “They produce on the score sheet, but are willing to play any position that we need. They show leadership beyond their 10th-grade year, and we are very lucky to have them.”
Against Oratory, MKA also received a goal each from freshman defenseman Miles Bronson, Potash and Vaiana, who registered an empty-net goal with two minutes remaining in the game.