The Montclair Kimberley ice hockey team, after a big rebound season, looks to go even further this year.

A couple years ago, the Cougars were winless. But in 2021-22 they collected a 9-5-3 record and were only a couple of games behind the New Jersey Interscholastic Ice Hockey League (NJIIHL) Kelly Division winner, Verona.

For 2022-23, Montclair Kimberley is looking to challenge again for the Kelly title.

While championships are definitely on the Cougars mind, MKA head coach Tim Cook also looks at the upcoming season as a chance for more than just hardware. 

"We break our goals for the season into character, practice, games and tangible achievements," Cook said. 

"They are things that we identify, vote on and then commit to as a team. Things like preparation, work ethic, focus, commitment and togetherness. Everything else stems from those character attributes." 

Junior Gary Hu, right, returns after being named to the NJIIHL Kelly Division second team for 2021-22. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)
Junior Gary Hu, right, returns after being named to the NJIIHL Kelly Division second team for 2021-22. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)
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The coach said that it comes down not to individual parts but the sum of the parts, to be at the top of the division. 

"Put the team before ourselves, play hard every game, and each player fulfilling their role every day in practice and then games," Cook said, adding that the team’s strengths are “speed up front, physicality on the back end, experience in net and depth at all three positions."

The Cougars are looking to see even more improvement from their top players from last season, juniors Sam Rotella and Jack MacEvoy, who were placed on the NJIIHL Kelly Division second team last year.

Forward Rotella had 20 goals and 27 assists last season but can play anywhere on the ice. 

"Sam is a warrior," Cook said. "He shows up every day, can play any position, and scores in big games. He continues to focus on being a leader, and I think he is going to take a massive step in all areas of his game this year."

Right behind Rotella on the score sheet is MacEvoy, who compiled 18 goals and 23 assists despite being on defense. 

Montclair Kimberley junior Jack MacEvoy (3), senior Anthony Zhang (center) and junior Gary Hu return this season for the Cougars. Montclair Kimberley ice hockey team looks this season to build off its 9-5-3 mark of the 2021-22 season. The Cougars open the 22-23 season on Dec. 11 against Oratory Prep at South Mountain Arena, 8:45 p.m.
Montclair Kimberley junior Jack MacEvoy (3), senior Anthony Zhang (center) and junior Gary Hu return this season for the Cougars. Montclair Kimberley ice hockey team looks this season to build off its 9-5-3 mark of the 2021-22 season. The Cougars open the 22-23 season on Dec. 11 against Oratory Prep at South Mountain Arena, 8:45 p.m.
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"Jack, like Sam Rotella, can play any position," the coach said. "He is a true hockey player, and his love for the game is on display any time he is in a rink. He shows up, is not afraid of the big moment and will go through the wall for the team."

Another scorer who is back for 2022-23 is junior Gary Hu, who compiled 12 goals and 11 assists and made the Kelly Division honorable mention list.

"Gary is a speed demon," Cook said. "He is a threat every time he touches the puck because of his explosiveness. He continues to improve in the D zone and as an all-around player."

In the back the Cougars are bolstered with the return of senior Anthony Zhang, who chipped in two goals and three assists last season and garnered a Kelly Division honorable mention nod. He is expected to contribute more on the score sheet this winter.

"Anthony is the definition of consistency, on and off the ice," Cook said. "I never have to worry about if Anthony is going to show up and put himself on the line for our team. He continues to round out the offensive side of his game."

Montclair Kimberley also has its two goalies returning, both seniors, Robert Lombardi and Aidan Meeker, who pretty much split time last year and will do that at least for the regular season. 

"They are both experienced and steady in the net," the coach said. "They support each other, even if they are not the one starting."

Along with the returning skaters, the Cougars have several freshmen bringing new blood to the team. Three are the defensive line, Ibou Conteh, Alex Shilkrot and Thomas Meeker, the brother of Aidan. And at forward, freshmen who will see time are Aiden Jia and Finn MacEvoy, Jack’s brother.

This season Montclair Kimberley will face its rival, Montclair, twice, as the Mounties enter the Kelly Division. The Cougars take on Montclair on Jan. 11 (4:10 p.m.) and Feb. 6 (4:10 p.m.), both at Clary Anderson Arena in Montclair.

Montclair Kimberley Ice Hockey schedule

(Home games at Clary Anderson Arena, Montclair)

Dec. 11 at Oratory Prep, South Mountain Arena, 8:45 p.m.

Dec. 14 Nutley, 4:15 p.m.

Dec. 16 at Kearny, 5:15 p.m.

Jan. 3 at St. John Vianney, 5:50 p.m.

Jan. 6 Oratory Prep, 4:15 p.m.

Jan. 9 at Cranford, 6:35 p.m.

Jan. 11 Montclair, 4:10 p.m.

Jan. 17 Paul VI, 4:15 p.m.

Jan. 18 at Nutley, 6 p.m.

Jan. 20 St. Joseph, 4:15 p.m.

Jan. 23 Kearny, 4 p.m.

Jan. 24 at Notre Dame, 6 p.m.

Jan. 26 at Frisch School, 8:45 p.m.

Feb. 1 Frisch School, 7:40 p.m.

Feb. 3 Cranford, 4:15 p.m.

Feb. 6 Montclair, 4:10 p.m.