by Andrew Garda

WEST ORANGE — Third time just wasn’t the charm for the Montclair Mounties hockey team Monday night, as they lost to Livingston, 1-0, in the semifinals of the McInnis Cup at Codey Arena.

The teams had met two times before, tying in both cases, with scores of 0-0 and 1-1, respectively.

This time out, it was much the same with the same defensive style of grinding hockey that marked the first two meetings. Both teams jammed up the neutral zone and both goaltenders continually made the big saves their teams needed them to make.

None of that is a shock, given that Livingston’s goalie, Gabe Mayants, is a first team All Conference player, with Mounties goalie Gus Bylin on the second team. MHS defender Will Schiffenhaus and forward Pat Ledgett were also named first team All Conference.

Still, scoring chances were at a premium and the Mounties and Lancers both had to make them count.

And in the second period, Livingston’s Matt Solomon managed to do just that. With 5:16 left, Solomon fired in a wrist shot from close to the point probably looking to get a rebound off MHS goaltender Gus Bylin. Although Bylin looked to have it handled, the puck squirted through his pads and neither he nor a nearby Mountie defender were able to stop it from just barely sliding past the goal line.

While the Mounties had their chances after that, they were never quite able to find the back of the net, missing on several great passes across the front of the Lancer net with a Pat Ledgett wrist shot clanging off the goal post with 45 seconds left.

“You want to call it puck luck, you can call it whatever, tip your hat to them,” Mounties head coach Pat Verney said after the game. “They made a play and converted on a goal. We knew there wouldn’t be a lot of opportunities tonight.”

Verney had also hoped that the back-to-back games — Montclair had beaten crosstown rival Montclair Kimberley Academy on Sunday night in a 6-4 shootout — wouldn’t prove a hindrance, especially with Livingston primarily playing just two lines.

“I had hoped that would be an advantage for us, that we could wear them down,” Verney said. “But they looked the fresher team in the third. I don’t know if that’s because we played yesterday but hats off to them.”

Even though the outcome was not what the team wanted, Verney continued to be pleased with his defense.

“Chase Friedfertig is the MVP of the division,” Verney said. “I don’t think he had many shots on net, so we did a pretty good job defensively.”

That said, offensively the Mounties continued to have issues creating — then executing on — scoring chances.

Montclair forward Pat Ledgett fires off a shot at the Livingston goal during the second period of the Mounties 1-0 loss in the McInnis Cup semifinal.
Montclair forward Pat Ledgett fires off a shot at the Livingston goal during the second period of the Mounties 1-0 loss in the McInnis Cup semifinal.

“We’ve got to manufacture offense,” Verney said. “We’re not a team that’s overwhelming offensively, so we’ve got to simplify our push a little bit and figure out ways where we get more pucks to the net and get a little more net drive. I don’t think we had enough net presence or net drive tonight. There wasn’t a lot of traffic in front of their goaltender. A lot of saves he made were saves where he had good sightlines on the puck and we have to figure out a way to get more slot presence.”

They’re on the clock to fix that, too. Seedings for the NJSIAA Tournaments came out Tuesday and Montclair was awarded the No. 1 seed in the Public A tournament. The Mounties’ first game will be at home on Saturday, Feb. 24, against the winner of a Feb. 20 battle between No. 16 West Windsor-Plains and No. 17 Mount Olive. While it won’t be easy, the Mounties have a very good chance of advancing through to at least the semifinals, where they would likely run into either No. 2 seed Hunterdon Central or No. 3 seed Bridgewater-Raritan.

“We had two goals,” Verney said. “One was to win a cup championship, and one is to win a state championship. One of these goals is still alive, and we’ve got to focus on that goal right now.”

To reach that goal, they first have to find a way to score some goals.