by Andrew Garda
Coaches talk about what a luxury having depth at the goaltender position can be, but rarely has a team been as deep at goalie as the Montclair ice hockey team appears to be.
Montclair entered the Montclair Invitational Tournament without their No. 1 and 2 goaltenders, and coach Pat Verney planned to lean heavily on junior Graham Roy.
Roy carried the Mounties to victories over both Tenafly and Madison, capturing the invitational championship while allowing just three goals on 64 shots.
While Roy made many excellent saves during the tournament, two moments stood out.
The first came in Montclair’s 5-2 win over Tenafly on Dec. 27, when the Tigers were awarded a penalty shot.
Down 4-2 with 7:58 left in the third period, Tenafly had the chance to steal the momentum with a goal after their player was hauled down on a breakaway.
Instead, Roy stonewalled the Tenafly player, as he would the entire team for the rest of the third.
“My first thought was, “Man, really?” Roy said, laughing, after the win over Tenafly. “But as it came down I just stayed focused, tracked it in and it really wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.”
The second big moment of the tournament for Roy came in the final against Madison, when the Dodgers gained a two-man advantage in the second period. Montclair led by a score of 1-0 and, as was the case with the penalty shot, it seemed like the game would turn on this penalty-killing effort.
Roy saw a dozen shots and turned them all aside, preserving the lead.
“Five-on-3 for a minute fifty,” Verney recalled after the win. “We were in a lot of trouble, with [Drew] Schiffenhaus in the box. So he’s off the ice, and having Graham just step up and make solid save, after solid save was huge. That was definitely a turning point.”
As the third goaltender for the Mounties, Roy doesn’t get to see moments like that very often. That he stepped up last week and performed so well was satisfying for Verney.
“What I like about Graham is, he’s a junior. Worked his butt off. Was a backup his first year behind Ondrej Smalec and last year he was involved in the guys backing up Ondrej” again, Verney said. “And his attitude’s always been good, he’s never given up even though he’s always been in a spot where other guys have gotten an opportunity. And here he was, he gets an opportunity and he seizes the moment and he was terrific.”
Roy also had praise for the rest of his team, particularly on defense.
“I think we played a really good defensive game against a very strong team,” he said after the tournament win. “We had three great defensemen who played hard the entire game. We had a little slump in the first where [Madison] dominated for long stretches, but then we worked our way into the game and eventually onto the scoreboard.”
The only goal Roy let through during the win over Madison came off a screen. Throughout the second and third period, Madison tried to send players into the slot to block the goalie’s line of site. For the most part, Will Schiffenhaus and the defense were able to clear the Madison offense out and give Roy a lane to see through. Often when they couldn’t, Roy helped his own cause and shoved or prodded forwards out of his way himself. The one time they couldn’t, Madison managed to find the back of the net, but for the most part, the Mounties were able to control the space in front of the goal.
“Sometimes you have to take matters into your own hands and push people out of the way,” Roy said of dealing with crowds in front of his crease. “But when you have defensemen like Schiffenhaus and [John] Painter, they do a good job of moving people out of the way. They did a great job of clearing the slot for me.”
While Roy was the MVP of the tournament, he wasn’t the only factor in the victory over Madison.
Pat Ledgett continued his dominating season with an amazing goal in the third, slicing his way through the defense and burying the puck in the net to put the Mounties up by two scores.
“He’s obviously an offensive threat every time he touches the puck,” Verney said. “It was a brilliant goal.”
Dan Korenbaum scored a pair of goals, including the go-ahead goal in the third for Montclair. Verney said that the line of Korenbaum, Jake Skorzewski and Cary Collucci — which the team calls the White Line because of the white jerseys they wear in practice — has been a key to MHS’ early success. He said that their sound defense and energetic forechecking have really represented what Montclair hockey is about.
The scoring was kicked off by Eamon Thall, though, on a blue-collar style goal in the late second period.
“Eamon Thall’s individual effort on his goal was just impressive,” Verney said. “Late second period, watching him outwork two or three guys. He stepped around the “D,” kept his legs moving, [and] won a one-on-one battle. He got the puck toward the net, got [the rebound], and threw it back in [the net]. It was just 100 percent grit and grind. He’s been a really great player for us.”
Verney was very pleased with how his team responded against both Madison and Tenafly, and thinks his team should be pleased as well.
“It’s a good win. [Madison is] 18th ranked in the state, so it definitely puts us in a spot where, hopefully, we realize we can play with some of the better teams around,” Verney said. “They beat [then No. 12] Ridge, so they’ve had some really impressive results.”
At this point, so has a Montclair team on a seven-game win streak. After meeting Clifton on Wednesday, Jan. 3, the Mounties face Livingston on Friday, Jan. 5, at Clary Anderson Arena.