Montclair Kimberley Academy 2022-23 ice hockey, Kelly Cup caps stellar season
The Montclair Kimberley ice hockey team will not let a blowout in the final game of the season dampen their enthusiasm for the 2022-23 season.
The Cougars lost to one of the best teams in the state, Delbarton, 10-0, in the Non Public first round on Feb. 22. Delbarton would go on to the Non Public final.
Before that, Montclair Kimberley won 10 of 11 games, including defeating Oratory Prep, 6-1, on Feb. 16 in winning the NJIIHL Kelly Cup, the first title for the program in eight years.
"We set clear goals from the start and achieved nearly all of them," said coach Bill Bronson, filling in for Tim Cook, who was out on paternity leave this season.
"The team pulled together, and our team culture took a great leap forward due in no small part to the work of the captains and seniors.
"More importantly, coach Cook established and solidified the systems, expectations and general team cohesion to a high level before he left for his paternity leave. That meant that coach (Kenny) Smith and I just had to run practices and be as strong as we could behind the bench without breaking what he's built these last seven-plus years."
The results were impressive, as the team finished 16-4-2, a far cry from the freshman season experienced by some of the seniors when MKA did not win a game.
The season was capped with the victory over Oratory to win the Kelly Cup. Oratory scored the first goal of the game, but the Cougars put away the next six goals to take home the cup.
"I was really proud of how we came out of the Kelly Cup final against Oratory," Bronson said. "After dropping the first goal, the team didn't panic and got down to business, scoring the next six unanswered."
By winning the Kelly Cup, Montclair Kimberley moves up to the McGinnis Division, which the Cougars had competed in in the past and includes Governor Livingston, which won the Public Group C state title.
"I think it helps insofar that next year, we'll move to the more competitive McGinnis Cup, where we once competed on a regular basis," Bronson said. “We are constantly looking to improve the team, and competing in a tougher regular season can help with that."
The Cougars collected several individual honors, led by sophomore Nick Sykora, who was pegged as the Kelly most valuable player. Sykora led Montclair Kimberley with 33 goals.
"Nicky brought a ton of skill to the team and the league this year," Bronson said. "His shot is elite level, and his skating makes him tough to cover.
“What I like best about Nicky's game besides the aforementioned shots and skating was his competitive spirit and work ethic. I've known Nicky since his Peewee days and have seen his development firsthand. He puts in the hours and is now reaping the rewards.”
Junior Sam Rotella was named to the All Kelly first team, while senior Anthony Zhang and sophomore Henry McCann collected All Kelly second-team nods. Junior Jack MacEvoy and senior Ethan Potash made the Kelly honorable mention list.
Rotella was one of the top leaders on the team; he registered 22 goals and 18 assists on the season.
"Sammy has been a leader on our team since day one, with or without the "C" on his jersey," Bronson said. "He never quits on a play and digs deep when games are on the line.
“The coaching staff could trust him in any situation because his hockey IQ and skill set is very high, and he can be depended on to make the right play at the right time. He also has elite skating and shooting abilities and is able to work the corners and front of the net well.
“He's a well-rounded skater and a strong teammate."
Zhang, one of the players on the winless 2019-20 team, was solid on defense. "His experience from his first season, going 0-19 to our successful season this year, was an incredibly valuable experience not only for him, but our team, as we could benefit from his perspective and perseverance," Bronson said.
"Anthony shares many of the team-first qualities that Sammy (Rotella) exhibits. He was a rock on our back end, a stable captain and an important set of eyes and ears for the coaches this year."
With Sykora, Rotella, McCann and MacEvoy returning next season, Montclair Kimberley hopes to be competitive in the tougher division.