by Andrew Garda
In hockey, managing transition — whether it be moving from defense to offense or switching from skating backwards to skating forwards — is a critical part of the game. For the 2018-19 Montclair High School hockey team, managing their transitions involves more than what is happening during a game.
Long-time coach Pat Verney has stepped aside, and the team graduated many players last season, meaning the Mounties will be young as they enter this season.
Easing the transition is new head coach Mark Janifer, who was an assistant with Verney — who boasted an overall record of 150-87-32 during his 11 seasons at MHS — for the past three years.
“I’m hoping I was chosen because they thought I could do a good job,” he said with a laugh before a recent practice. “And I think the fact that I’d been here the last three years was helpful in them selecting me, because I was familiar with the program, and the kids. I think that made the transition as easy as it could be on most people.”
Janifer, who was officially approved at the Nov. 19 Board of Education meeting, brings several years head coaching experience to the job, most recently at West Orange, along with his familiarity with the team.
“I have head-coached before, so I know most of the things that go on relating to that, that you need to be responsible for, not just the on-ice practice stuff,” he said. “And now that I have the job, I’m happy to be here, really excited about it, and am enjoying head coaching again.”
Janifer will have his work cut out for him, with just five seniors on the varsity roster. Two of them — defender Will Schiffenhaus and goalie Graham Roy — are starters with significant varsity experience.
The other three were backups and junior varsity players last year who will now see a significant uptick in minutes on the ice.
“Vincent Pagnotta, played a little last year at forward, but not a whole lot, so he’s going to be getting more ice time this year,” Janifer said. “And Coco Klisivitch, who mainly played JV last year, she’s going to get some varsity time this year as well.”
The fifth senior, Ryan Kolenovic, will be one of many goalies in the mix for the team as well.
Janifer will be looking for a lot of young players — including sophomores and a few freshmen — to step up.
“We don’t have huge numbers this year, so a lot of the freshman as well as a lot of other players — sophomores and juniors — are pulling double duty,” he said. “So they’ll practice with varsity and they might even dress for some varsity games, although I do not know how much time they’ll get. But they’ll play some varsity, as well as most of the JV games as well.”
The Mounties started the season off with about as tough a matchup as a team could ask for, dropping a 2-1 decision at Summit in the season opener Tuesday, Nov. 27.
The Hilltoppers, who won the McInnis Division and the NJSIAA Public C championship last season, jumped on top with two-first period goals.
The Mounties got on the board in the second period, as Mark Rechan scored a power-play goal from Harry Bylin, though they couldn’t manage the tying goal.
But junior goalie Lucas Podvey stood tall to keep the game close, ending up with 37 saves. The high volume of shots probably didn’t surprise Janifer, who said during Monday’s practice that he knew his team would be tested.
“They almost have their whole team back and they’re going to be very strong again,” Janifer said of their opponent. “They’re definitely a team that likes to capitalize on mistakes. They have a very fast transition game, they have very strong and fast forwards…and a couple of guys who can really put the puck in the net. So if you make a lot of mistakes, or if you’re not disciplined in your coverages, they’re going to take advantage of it.”
It’s a good barometer for the Mounties, but lose or win, Janifer isn’t worried about where the team starts so much as how it finishes the season.
“I think this is a year where we have to work on a lot of skill development as well as knowledge of the game in terms of the systems we want to play at this level,” Janifer said.
The Mounties’ broad stroke goals are pretty straightforward this year — make the conference and state tournaments. On a micro, day to day level, however, Janifer is looking for some basics.
“We want to get better throughout the season, not be satisfied with where we are, and have confidence in ourselves,” Janifer said. “We’re shooting to be peaking [at the right time], but also to make sure we’re working hard to grow throughout the year. That’s very important for us. We cannot be playing in February the way we’re playing now. If we are, then I didn’t do a very good job, so you should be able to look at us tomorrow and look in February and see a much improved team.”