by Andrew Garda

With Montclair High School beating Montclair Kimberley Academy 3-2 on Tuesday night, the regular high school hockey season is a wrap. Both the Mounties (14-4-3) and the Cougars (5-10-2) have to turn their full attention to postseason play, beginning with the McInnis Cup later this ewek.

With the exception of Summit, the McInnis is a tight division. While the Hilltoppers are undefeated, the rest of the group is tightly packed. And given that even Summit is not unbeatable — the Mounties nearly beat them in their second meeting and Westfield overcame them 3-2 — and a tournament is a one and done affair, anything can happen. All it takes is one great effort and someone could upset even the mighty Hilltoppers.

“We talked about it in the beginning of the year, how good this division was,” MHS coach Pat Verney said. “Right now if you look at it — the computer rankings, MyHockey rankings — we have four teams in our division who are top ten in the state. That’s according to the computer ranking.”

“The only team really that’s kind of head and shoulders above everybody is Summit,” Cougars coach Tim Coach said after a recent game. “Every other team, it’s close and comes down to whose goaltender plays better, who takes advantage of their opportunities. Like every hockey game, Everybody’s got a shot.”

Summit will be the top seed in the tournament, and will have a first-round bye along with No. 2 Livingston. MHS is the No. 3 seed and Westfield the No. 4 seed, while MKA and Governor Livingston were deadlocked for the No. 5 seed, with the same won-loss record (and two head-to-head ties); at press time, it was unclear which school would earn the nod.

Quarterfinal games will be played on or before Saturday, with the semifinals to be played early next week. The championship game is Friday night, Feb. 16, at the Codey Arena in West Orange.

Verney believes the tough schedule every team plays in the McInnis prepares them all for tournament season.

“Playing in this division, every night, every game is going to be a battle,” Verney said. “Livingston is a tremendous team, they’re well coached. They’re a tough team night in, night out. Westfield plays so hard and can beat anybody. Then you have a team like MKA — they can catch anybody on any given night. There’s no easy outs in the division.”

MKA possesses a high-powered offense, led by dynamic freshman Alex Gaffney. There’s a chance that every time Gaffney touches the puck, he’ll find a way to cut through the defensive line and find the net. Most of the time Gaffney is matched with Oscar Worob and Brian Schindler to form a very dangerous offensive line. When a team focuses on Gaffney, as Montclair did in their first meeting, Worob and Schindler will make them pay. If the defense focuses on Worob or Schindler, Gaffney is there to cause trouble.

MKA’s offense will wear teams down. If their defense can step up in the postseason, they will be a tough out.

The Mounties, on the other hand, grind teams down with excellent defense and fantastic goaltending.

Will Schiffenhaus and John Painter are the linchpins on defense, with Schiffenhaus playing a very physical game and Painter doing all the little things to keep the puck out of the defensive end.

The Montclair defense is helped out by what might be the deepest goaltending bench in the SEC between Gus Bylin, Lucas Podvey and Graham Roy.

The key for a Mountie run in the McInnis Cup will be offense. Pat Ledgett continues to be the leader on offense, but Verney will be looking for production from Eamon Thall, Brett Janifer and Miles Bylin as well.