by Edward Kensick for the Montclair Local
Montclair Kimberley Academy’s first hockey win this winter will be one more than the team saw in the entire 2019-20 season.
But while the Cougars were 0-16 last year, the record does not tell the entire story.
It was a perfect storm for MKA last season, with a youthful, inexperienced squad and a brutal schedule.
The team only had one senior, and nearly all of the teams the Cougars went up against eventually finished the season with .500 or better records.
MKA head coach Tim Cook said his young team gained experience through the trials and tribulations of the 2019-20 season.
“The team learned the most important lesson of all, which is to compete in every game, no matter the opponent,” said Cook, whose team started practices on Jan. 3. “This will bode us well for this season and beyond. There is so much we cannot control each game, but the two things we can control are preparation and work ethic.”
Now with an experienced squad, MKA has moved down from the McInnis to the Kelly Division of the North Jersey Interscholastic Ice Hockey League (NJIIHL), where it faces the likes of Cranford, Governor Livingston/New Providence, Johnson, Millburn, Nutley-Columbia-Bloomfield and Oratory Prep.
The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association delayed the start of the 2020-21 season, which will be abbreviated, to the second week in January. There will be an NJIIHL Kelly Division tournament, but no state tournament.
Cook pointed to what the team wants for this season, in which games start on Jan. 18 at home, at Clary Anderson Arena in Montclair (Chestnut Street, 4:15 p.m.).
“Goals for this year are to be disciplined, stick together and never get outworked,” he said. “We do not set or pay attention to year-end goals like record, standings or anything like that. The process will lead to the results.”
While MKA has a few more seniors (six in 2021), they still are young. The team has some up-and-coming freshmen debuting this season as well.
The seniors are goalie Sebastian Burns, forwards Danny D’Angelo, Justin Vasilopoulos and Aron Dyadyuk, and defensemen Matthew McCann and Matt Bock. D’Angelo is the team captain, while Dyadyuk is an assistant captain.
Senior Sebastian Burns is one of four goaltenders the MKA Cougars could put in the net as they sort out their best option
McCann is also an assistant captain, and the leader on defense.
“McCann is a physical D-man with great vision,” Cook said. “Hopefully his consistency will improve, as he has the potential to be the best player on the ice when he is at his best.”
Also in the back is sophomore Anthony Zhang, who looks to improve on his offensive game. “Zhang is a steady and strong defenseman who makes the right decision in any situation,” Cook said. “He continues to improve his offensive size.”
On the other side of the spectrum are a good group of freshmen in forwards Gary Hu, Sam Rotella and Henry Sun, along with defensemen Jack MacEvoy and Geoff Vaiana.
Sandwiched between the seniors and the freshmen is probably the best player on MKA in sophomore forward Adam Zidlicky, who was All-McInnis Division Second Team last season. Zidlicky had the most points on the team last season with four goals and four assists.
“His speed and explosiveness are some of the best I have seen at his age,” Cook said about Zidlicky. “Also, his compete level never changes. He brings the same intensity to a big game or a skills practice. He loves the game, and I expect to see him at the Division 1 college level in a few years.”
Another sophomore, forward Ethan Potash, looks to build on his two goals and three assists last season. “Potash is a scrappy forward with a nose for the net,” Cook said. “He continues to improve his offensive touch.”
One of the toughest decisions for Cook and the coaching staff will be who will be in goal.
MKA has a possibility of four goalies in the net in any game, with sophomores Immanuel Pantow, Aidan Meeker and Robert Lombardi and senior Sebastian Burns. Pantow and Lombardi had the most time last season, but it could be any of the four in goal in the season opener against Oratory Prep. Pantow and Lombardi had 163 and 103 saves respectively last season, with Lombardi facing 120 shots while Pantow saw an eye-popping 207, which accounted for nearly half of all shots on goal last season.
“It will be difficult in terms of playing time as we only have 11 games, so we are watching in practice and the first half of the season to see if one steps up and establishes themselves as the undisputed number one goalie,” Cook said. “They all have strengths that are attractive, and more importantly support each other and the team even if they are not in net for that particular game.”
For Cook, balance is the word when it comes to his team.
“We have good balance this year at all positions, as well as some good depth at forward and goalies,” he said. “I think we can be an all-around solid team with some high-end scorers.”