Montclair’s first girls hockey team — a season of making memories
(Courtesy Piero Zanes)
By ANDREW GARDA
When Montclair High School senior Mia Cutler heads to Syracuse University's Newhouse School of Journalism, it will be with many happy memories of being part of Montclair's first girls hockey team — and one scar.
Cutler got several stitches under her chin after a fall on the ice at a practice.
"She finally felt like a real hockey player," her father, Evan Cutler, said. "So, she ended up with a hat trick for the season: one goal, one assist and stitches."
For Mia Cutler, who normally plays soccer, it's the memories on the ice, not the stitches, that will remain. That's especially true of the recent Blue and White scrimmage the team had at Clary Anderson Arena on Thursday, Jan. 27.
The game had everything — a loud cheering crowd ("I think they broke the stands," Cutler said), checking and a game-ending shootout.
After three periods of action, the two teams — both made of Montclair girls — were deadlocked at 5-5 and went into penalty shots.
The white team beat Cutler's blue squad, but the score really didn't matter.
What did matter was that a group of girls — many of whom had never skated before, much less played hockey — got a chance to put the skills they had been developing all season on display.
Cutler, who plays left or right wing on the forward line, said she had heard about efforts to put a girls team together this past summer. Despite having no hockey experience, and even very little hockey-watching experience, she jumped on the ice.
"I never did anything before. I just thought it was interesting," she said. “I just did some skating, like just for fun when Edgemont would freeze over. And then a bunch of my friends were like, let's just do it. So, then we all did it and got super into it."
"Getting super into it" seems to be the theme for the young program, which is not yet officially affiliated with Montclair High School. Players, parents, families and friends began to follow the development of the team, which is coached by MHS hockey coach Connor Smith.
"My dad is getting us Devils tickets," Cutler said. She added that after she started practicing, she began looking up videos on the internet.
She’d search YouTube for terms like “best hockey players in history” or find team highlights, and watch everything the pros did. And she said it’s “crazy to see how fast they are with everything."
For the girls team, slow and steady has been the pace. Cutler said the girls began practicing when the boys began their regular season games. With so many players who are new to the sport, they have really focused on the basics.
That meant focusing on skating, on how to stop, on how to turn — “and that takes a really long time to [learn to] do smoothly and seamlessly,” she said. Team members would play games like "sharks vs. minnows" to help them figure out how to get around people, mimicking scenarios they’d run up against in games.
Cutler said the girls do a lot of the same drills as the boys, and in preparing for the scrimmage did something girls hockey players never do — they learned to check.
Girls hockey does not have full contact like boys hockey, something that can be a plus, as it allows for more fancy skill moves. Mia Cutler said adding in the hitting was fun, and also put some of the players in a position to get ice time with the boys junior varsity team, as several of the players are with that team as well.
As a senior, Cutler will never get a chance to skate for Montclair High School, but that doesn't bother her. She knows she is building something for the future and looks forward to coming back and watching the girls who come after take to the ice.
"I am so excited to see how everyone looks," she said. "There are no freshmen, but there are sophomores who, by the time they're seniors, are going to be so good. So, I'm super-excited to see that happen."
She said that even some middle school kids have caught the hockey fever.
"There was a girl in our scrimmage who was in eighth grade, and she scored like five or four of our goals," she said. "She was so good. Hopefully she'll [continue to] play, and then she'll get more people to get into it and just have a whole girls hockey team that is actually good enough to play against other teams."