by Andrew Garda
NEWARK— Sometimes even when you do everything right, things don’t go your way.
That was the case for the No. 2-seeded Montclair High School hockey team as they fell to defending champion and top-seeded Morris Knolls 3-2 in overtime of the NJSIAA Public A tournament at the Prudential Center on Monday, March 9.
The Mounties battled hard all game long against a tough Golden Eagles team, and a huge reason they were able to withstand the second and third period, when they were outshot 23-18, was goaltender Lucas Podvey.
As he had all season, Podvey stood on his head, making one phenomenal save after another, including a stop on a penalty shot by MK’s Jason Kwestel in the closing seconds of the second period to preserve a 1-1 tie.
Despite that, Kwestel got his revenge in overtime, as a defenseman knocked the stick out of Podvey’s hands and the Morris Knoll forward deflected a shot by teammate Dylan Idland past the Mounties netminder to win the game.
Podvey made no excuses to his coach, Mark Janifer, who didn’t even know his netminder had lost the stick until a media member told him.
“That tells you everything about who he is,” Janifer said. “Someone else would have jumped on that, “Oh coach I didn’t have a stick.” But Lucas didn’t say a word.”
Janifer said he knew his goalie was hurting, but he was also sure Podvey is aware of how much he has meant to this team not just this season, but throughout his career.
“He’s just had a great career. For two years now, he’s been our starter and I probably can’t count on two hands the number of times he’s either saved a game or kept us in the game so we could win,” Janifer said. “Even tonight, saving the penalty shot, you know, just big save after big save, always giving us a chance to win. I think he understands what he meant to this team. I don’t think it was any secret from any of the coaches or from any of the players. And not just in the goal, but in the locker room, in the weight room, you know, just being a leader, not just being a great goalie.”
More than anything, Janifer was disappointed for the seniors, like Podvey.
“[I’m] obviously very disappointed and I’m most disappointed for the seniors. I think it’s another game [where] they played their hearts out. Kel [Foster-Palmer] made plays, Podvey made plays. Yeah, I just wish there was a way we could have got a win for them. They put so much heart and soul into this team and they’ve been such great class leaders for us. It would have been nice for them to go out that way.”
Along with Podvey’s goaltending, the hallmark of the Mounties this season has been resiliency, which they once again showed Monday.
The Mounties took the lead on a George Osterberg power-play goal, off a pretty Brett Janifer pass, but 19 seconds later, Kwestel slipped behind the defense to receive a pass and has a wide-open shot at Podvey, tying the game at 1-1.
In the third period, MK’s Jake Quinn found himself alone in the slot and beat Podvey high stick-side to give his team a 2-1 lead with 6:09 to go in the game.
The Mounties didn’t hang their heads, however, and Brett Janifer would go coast-to-coast, beating freshman goalie Elliott Marken top shelf to even the game 2-2 with just four minutes left in the game.
Montclair would go on a power play when a Morris Knolls player was tagged for a 5-minute major penalty. Montclair was unable to score in the last two minutes of the third, and then struggled to generate offense during the rest of it in overtime.
Then Morris Knolls flipped the ice, Podvey had his stick kicked out of his hand and the Mounties fell just a little short.
“I think all year, this has been a very resilient team,” said Janifer. “Especially the beginning of the season, when…we were starting out slow most of our games. And as bad as that was I think…it built into us a kind of mentality that we could always come back. We weren’t going to stop fighting until that final whistle blew. And I think you saw that again tonight. If there were more time on the clock after that goal we would have come back again, but there wasn’t enough time.
While time did run out on the Mounties Monday, Janifer said he couldn’t be prouder of his team.
“You know, one of the things going into the game I really wanted was for us to play our best. To have a good game and then let the chips fall where they fall,” the coach said. “And, I think that’s what happened. If we had gotten one or two bounces here or there, yeah, we could have been celebrating. But I thought we played a very good game and so from that standpoint, there’s no regrets.
While the ice and spotlight never looked too big for the Mounties, Morris Knolls had the experience of being on this stage Montclair had not.
Janifer said he thinks it did have an impact, but one his team now has going forward.
“I think [an advantage] Morris Knolls had going into this game was just the fact that they had the experience. They’ve been here before. They know the whole routine, you know, the kids wouldn’t be in awe of the building or be taken aback by anything that was going on,” Janifer said. “And so, you know getting here I think is a big deal. I think it’s invaluable.”
Janifer also had praise for the fan support MHS has received this season. The student section has been especially passionate, and the school put together four buses to take kids to “The Rock” for the game, while lacrosse put tryouts on hold to support the members of their team skating for Montclair.
“One of the things that was really heartening for me and for the team was just seeing the response that the community had around their success and how they were playing,” said Janifer. “From the student body coming out, to people in the community coming out, to alumni texting, writing [players]. The support that they’ve gotten and the excitement that was generated in the community was outstanding and hopefully, you know, this is the beginning. Hopefully we’ll be back here soon and with another chance to win it and bring one home.”
As disappointing as Monday’s loss was, the Mounties have a tremendous amount to be proud of. An 18-6-2 record, 10-2-2 in the NJIIHL, appearances in both the County and State finals, both of which saw them battle into overtime against very good teams.
Janifer understands it will be hard to see now, but he thinks his team will eventually appreciate what they accomplished.
“You know, when you set your goals high, sometimes they don’t necessarily come true, but you get pretty high even though you don’t make it,” he said. “As opposed to setting your goals low and achieving them. We set our goals high there. We didn’t quite accomplish them but we got pretty far. We got pretty far.”