Edward Kensik for Montclair Local
Cindy and Gary Hu did not allow a shutdown of rinks during the coronavirus pandemic to keep them from getting ready for the Montclair Kimberley Academy ice hockey season.
The brother-sister tandem would try to find anywhere to work on their games, be it in their home, on the street or just around their West Orange neighborhood.
“Since the pandemic started, I’ve mainly relied on activities that I can do at home or in my neighborhood,” said Cindy Hu, a junior on the Cougars team. “That meant a lot of shooting in the basement and also roller-skating around our neighborhood. We occasionally get attacked by overly excitable dogs, but it’s still worth it.”
The pair helped MKA to a 4-5 mark in the abbreviated season, a big improvement over a winless 2019-20 season.
MKA head coach Tim Cook likes Cindy’s game, especially on the defensive end. “She is a responsible player who angles defensively very well and makes the smart play with the puck,” Cook said.
As to Gary Hu, Cook believes he is one of the top up-and-coming players in the NJIIHL. Hu, a freshman, showed just the tip of the iceberg of his talent this past season, with three goals and two assists in the nine games.
“Gary was an impact player for us right away,” Cook said about the center. “He has great speed and skill and is not afraid of the physical play. He will be a big part of our program moving forward, as he is a playmaker that makes other players around him better.”
While the number of girls in ice hockey continues to grow every year, Cindy is still in a sport dominated by boys, and there are always mixed feelings playing with a bunch of boys. But that seems to be changing.
“I feel that being one of the few girls on the team has always made me stand out, although not always in a good way,” said Cindy Hu, who has played hockey since she was 10 years old. “There have been some days when I just can’t shake the feeling that I’ll never truly belong, but overall the team has been pretty accepting. It has helped that I played with some of the others in middle school, and it also helps that I have a brother on the team this year.”
Gary Hu knew that, as a freshman, he would be going up against much bigger and stronger upperclassmen this past winter. “During the off-season, I mainly worked on getting stronger because I’m relatively light for my age,” he said. Hu added 15 pounds of muscle and grew 3 inches from the off-season to last week. “This season, I liked that I was able to win more corner battles against larger players,” he said.
For a freshman it is always tough to play on the varsity, but having Cindy on the club was a big help.
“Having my sister on the team helped a lot, whether it was learning everyone’s name, the team’s strategies or just having someone familiar to talk to,” he said. “Starting high school can be really intimidating if you don’t know anyone, so having my sister on the team helped a lot.”
The help was not only to know the names on the team, but to push each other on the ice and outside of the rink.
“We always push each other, because we want each other to succeed,” Gary Hu said. “I love playing with my sister because I know that if I’m happy about something there will always be someone there to share the good news with, and if I’m sad there will be someone there to cheer me up.”
The MKA varsity team is not their first rodeo together. They also played for the MKA middle school program.
“Gary and I have always pushed each other,” Cindy Hu said. “We’re siblings, but we’re also teammates and friends. Another reason why I was forced to learn how to angle is that Gary is the kind of player who will skate right by you if you go straight at him. We’ve attended a lot of hockey camps and open hockey sessions together, and playing with him has definitely helped me improve.”
For the Hus, the Kelly Cup first-round 4-1 victory over Millburn on Feb. 26 was the highlight of the season. Gary Hu had his best offensive game, with a pair of goals.
“My teammates were able to give me tape-to-tape passes, and they were always open when I needed someone to pass to,” Gary Hu said. “Also, early in the game, I was able to win a few corner battles and was able to come out of the corner with the puck, which gave me more confidence.”
For Cindy Hu the win over Millburn avenged an earlier 4-3 defeat on Feb. 19. “It was an important game because we’d lost the previous matchup, and our season would have been over if we didn’t do better the second time,” she said.