Montclair Kimberley Academy’s ice hockey team will have to wait until next season to end its cup drought.

The Cougars were looking to put up another banner at their home, Clary Anderson Arena, this month, but Cranford had other ideas in the New Jersey Interscholastic Ice Hockey League (NJIIHL) Kelly Cup semifinals on Monday night, Feb. 14.

While third-seeded Montclair Kimberley scored first, second-seeded Cranford would light the lamp the rest of the way as the Cougars dropped a 4-1 decision at Warinanco Ice Skating Center in Elizabeth.

“They were just better than us,” MKA head coach Tim Cook said after the game. The team’s record dropped to 9-4-3. MKA’s last cup title came in 2012, when it won the McInnis Cup.

Cook said that what his team needed to do, Cranford did better. “You needed to block shots, finish chances and take care of the puck,” he said.

The coach said he hopes the experience of the loss to Cranford will help his young team, which has only four seniors. “Hopefully they learn from this and see how it is to play the right way,” he said.

While the Kelly Cup run is over, the Cougars still have the upcoming Non-Public State Tournament. MKA is slated to be the 17th seed, and it will be an uphill climb, possibly even in the first game. Unfortunately for the Cougars, the top 10 ice hockey programs in the state are non-public schools, and they are in MKA’s bracket.

Against Cranford, the combination of sophomores Sam Rotella and Jack MacEvoy started MKA off on a high note with a little less than a minute left in the first period. Rotella fed a pass to MacEvoy, who put it behind Cranford goalie Luke Pitts for a 1-0 Cougars lead.

But after that it was the Chris Kube show for Cranford, as he would register a hat trick and score the next three goals. Kube scored four goals in his team’s previous game win over Millburn.

Kube’s goals came as a result of constant pressure against MKA goalie Immanuel Pantow, who faced 37 shots compared to the Cougars’ 27 shots on goal.

Montclair Kimberley’s Henry Sun (19) brings the puck down the ice against Cranford. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)
Montclair Kimberley’s Henry Sun (19) brings the puck down the ice against Cranford. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)

To get to the semifinals, Montclair Kimberley defeated sixth-seeded Oratory Prep, 5-2, on Feb. 11 at Clary Anderson Arena. 

In that game Rotella scored a pair of goals while MacEvoy chipped in three assists.  

Rotella and MacEvoy lead the Cougars in scoring with 46 and 40 points respectively heading into the state playoffs. 

“Rotella and MacEvoy bring a high work ethic and compete level every game,” 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.”

In the Oratory game, the Cougars jumped out to a 4-0 lead after the first period but had to hold on in the third period as their penalty killers battled through a couple of 5-on-3 man disadvantages and two five-minute major penalties. 

Pantow made 23 saves; helping him out on the penalty kills were Rotella, sophomore Geoffrey Vaiana, junior Anthony Zhang and junior Ethan Potash. 

Besides Rotella’s two goals, MKA received a goal each from freshman defenseman Miles Bronson, Potash and Vaiana, who registered an empty-netter with two minutes remaining in the game.

An earlier version of this post misidentified Geoffrey Vaiana.