by Andrew Garda
WEST ORANGE — Every coach hopes his team gets off to a strong start, and Montclair Kimberley Academy hockey coach Tim Cook couldn’t have asked for a better beginning to the season than the 5-1 win over Livingston High School on Monday, Nov. 26.
“I told the guys, if that was our last game I’d be really upset,” Cook said after the win. “It wasn’t tight, we made some mistakes, and we were loosey-goosey up front at times. But because it was our first game, I was thrilled. We just need to get a little bit better each day and continue to improve on those things.”
Daily improvement is a big point of emphasis for Cook and his staff, both across the whole season as well as from game to game or period to period.
“I liked the way we built upon our first period,” he said about the Cougars’ win. “The first period was fine, in my eyes, in terms of a first game. A little bit sloppy, but the effort was there. Then the second [period] was better, and the third was better.”
The progression is exactly what Cook wants to see from his squad each game.
“That’s our biggest thing, to continue to get better and build as a team.”
The first period saw both the Cougars and Lancers head to the penalty box several times, with both teams doing good work killing the penalties.
In the second period, sophomore David Chen took an Oscar Worob pass and buried in the net. The Lancers responded with just 28 seconds left in the period, when Austin Vecchio slipped a shot past Cougars goalie Sebastian Burns.
The first two frames saw both teams accumulate 17 shots, but during the third period, MKA not only took two more shots than the Lancers did, but scored on four out of eight shots.
Worob started things off with a goal just under two minutes into the third, with Chen getting the assist. Brian Schindler scored the first of his two goals with just under 10 minutes left in regulation, while Benji Peiffer converted a Worob pass for the Cougars’ fourth goal of the night.
Schindler’s second goal came with just 37 seconds left in the game. All told, Worob assisted on three of the five MKA goals, with Chen and Alex DiGeronimo getting the primary assists on the other two goals.
Not surprisingly, nearly every player who contributed to the score-sheet is someone Cook mentioned as a core piece the team would be depending on this season.
“That first line, they’re difference makers,” Cook said. “They’re game changers, I wouldn’t trade them for anybody in the league, or the state to be quite honest.”
Cook doesn’t expect or want them to carry the load on their own, though.
“We’ve got some real, solid secondary pieces,” Cook said. “Like Alex Stetkevych and Ethan Otner. Aron Dyadyuck, Matt McCann and Danny D’Angelo are all solid pieces who can contribute.”
At the end of the day, Cook needs all his players — no matter where they reside on the depth chart — to improve every day.
“I don’t care where guys or girls start — and we have three girls on our team — I care where they end up. They have to get better and if that means they play one shift a game, but that shift is really solid and they work hard and do little things. That’s huge and what really excites me as a coach.”
The Cougars once again reside in the highly competitive McInnis Division, and will face some significant challenges against teams like Montclair High School, Governor Livingston and defending Group C champion Summit, a team which lost only twice last season.
“Anyone can beat you if you don’t play very well,” Cook said of the competition level. “So really, we’re focusing on one game at a time, as cliché as it sounds.”
The next game to focus on was on the road against Red Bank Catholic, which finished after press time. Then the Cougars will look to beat Scotch Plains-Fanwood on Tuesday, Dec. 4, also on the road, making their first three games away from Clary Anderson Arena and their home ice.
It’s not an easy way to begin the season, but it will help Cook sort out just what to expect from his team, because right now he’s not sure.
“Honestly, I really don’t know. I’m not trying to dodge the question – I really don’t know,” he said. “We’ve got good potential, and I really like our group in terms of our skill. I think our third line can contribute. We have a really solid first line and Sebastian Burns plays really well. But it’s really about getting better each day.”