by Andrew Garda
The Montclair Mounties hockey team is having quite the season, and added to it last Thursday with a 4-0 victory over visiting Howell at Clary Anderson Arena. It was the second successive shutout by Montclair, coming on the heels of a 5-0 win over Robbinsville the previous Saturday. The team also tied Westfield 4-4 on Tuesday and faces Northern Highlands Thursday night.
The Mounties overwhelmed Rebels goaltender Dan McEvoy, who faced 45 shots on the day. Montclair goalie Lucas Podvey saw only 18 shots, and the MHS defense allowed no more than eight shots in a single period.
Podvey was tested late in the game, but each time he came up big, including when he stonewalled a Howell forward on a one-on-one scoring chance.
With the goaltending keeping the Mounties in the game and the offense piling up shots, it was only a matter of time before the dam broke. In a 17-shot second period, first Eamon Thall then Pat Ledgett found the back of the net. MHS kept up the pressure in the third with 18 more shots, converting goals from Brett Janifer and Miles Bylin.
It was a nice burst of offense from a team that generally relies on its defense.
Defenders like Will Schiffenhaus, Jared Topf and John Painter continued to do a tremendous job in front of the goaltender and repeatedly found ways to disrupt the opposition’s efforts to generate offense.
Painter in particular had a standout game, including saving a goal when a puck squirted past Podvey. That was just one of the reasons Painter was awarded what coach Pat Verney calls “The Hat.”
“We give out a Mountie hat and literally that was one of the plays we referenced,” Verney said of the save. “A wrist shot from the point gets through and Johnny’s back there to knock the puck off the line.”
One of the senior leaders on the team, Painter exemplifies what this Mountie team is about, Verney said.
“We talk about the unselfishness that this team has really grasped,” he said. “It’s not about me, getting my name in the paper. It’s about the team continuously winning. We see that with this group on a big-time level and it starts with guys like Painter.”
The Mounties also did a very good job adjusting to changes the Howell coaching staff made, like shifting Sean Mylod from forward to defender to start the game. Things like that can throw a team, but the Mounties remained patient and avoided getting caught in an odd-man rush.
“They’re playing a counter style, looking to catch us in a couple of odd-man rushes and waiting for us to make a mistake,” Verney said of Howell’s overall game plan. “We can’t get frustrated, press and do too much individually. The last thing you want to see in a spot like that is to have one guy on our team try to stickhandle through three of theirs.”
While the defense and offense continue to click, Verney also knows his team has a nice cushion because of how special his goalies are in their own right.
“I think one of the reasons that all of our goaltenders have been great is we play tremendous team defense,” he said. “But Gus Bylin is one of the top goalies around. He’s got a .948 save percentage and he’s been unbelievable this year. But we give Graham Roy a start against Robbinsville, he gets a shutout. We give Lucas Podvey a start tonight, he gets a shutout. The goaltending depth we have here is wild for a public school. It’s crazy.”
And it’s not the only spot where this team has depth.
Another of the standouts in the victory over Howell was freshman forward Brett Janifer.
Janifer notched his sixth goal as well as his four and fifth assists against the Rebels, topping a two-week span in which he’s been on fire. Since the Jan. 9 game against Summit, Janifer has scored four goals, had three assists and totaled seven points.
“He’s maybe 120 pounds soaking wet so he’s not a big boy,” Verney said. “But he’s contributing in a real way that’s obviously helping the team. Playing bigger than his size and kind of knowing he’s got to do things in a way where he’s got to be smart, get pucks out beyond lines. He’s done a really good job. The hockey IQ is there, and he’s been red hot the last two weeks offensively.”
Janifer isn’t just solid with the puck. He’s a constant nagging issue to deal with for the other team, so much so that midway through the first period the other team seemed to take notice and he took several big hits.
But the Mounties weren’t having any of it, and players like Schiffenhaus responded with some checks of their own.
That speaks to how close this team is, Verney said.
“We were just talking, as coaches, about what a tight group this is,” he said. “We have seniors who are interacting with freshmen, taking them out and grabbing a bite to eat, playing video games. There’s a lot of camaraderie and there’s a level of commitment to each other. They put the team first. I think you can go a long way when that’s there.”