BY ANDREW GARDA
The Montclair Kimberley Academy Cougars hockey team is off to a red-hot start this season, with no losses and one tie in its first five games after Wednesday afternoon’s 6-3 home win against Nutley at Clary Anderson Arena.
Head coach Tim Cook has a very young team, with just four seniors — forwards Michael Caggiano, Michael Bronstein, Cinderella Hu and Callum Reddington — out of 20 roster players on the varsity level.
That said, so far they are playing like a far more veteran team.
“It’s coming together,” Cook said over the phone Tuesday afternoon. “I’d say most of the team is playing very well at each of their roles. That’s led to our success early.”
Goaltending also has a lot to do with it, as MKA has only allowed eleven goals in five games. Junior Imanuel Pantow has done most of the heavy lifting, but fellow juniors Robert Lombardi and Aidan Meeker have stepped in as well.
“We’re fortunate because we’ve got three really good goalies,” Cook said. “They’ve all gotten to play this year, and they’ve all played well.”
Stopping goals is only part of the equation to get a win, but the Cougars have been scoring plenty as well, with 28 goals so far this season.
Leading the way are sophomores Jack MacEvoy (10 goals, 8 assists), Sam Rotella (5 goals, 12 assists) and Gary Hu (6 goals, 6 assists).
“We’ve got a really strong sophomore class,” Cook said. “And then we’ve got some good juniors and good freshmen.”
With such a young team and so much talent, it’s easy to look ahead, but Cook wants his team and fans to stay in the here and now.
“It’s always nice to have that, but it’s really one day at a time, controlling what we can control,” he said. “My biggest thing is for each player to take ownership of the situation, whether we’re winning or losing or whatever.
“Sometimes you can’t control how the puck bounces, or the refs, or how good the opponent is. We don’t focus on that, we focus on doing the right things, taking care of the puck, competing hard.
“Are we staying on the defensive side of the puck? Are we having an attitude that is conducive to complete ownership so everybody is saying, ‘What can I do about the situation even if it’s not of my making?’”
Cook is very pleased with everyone, especially MacEvoy and Rotella.
“Those two kids are beasts, just warriors, you know?” he said. “The biggest thing I like about their game is they are leading by example. And I can really treat them like adults in the way I can speak to them. Their egos aren’t too big that they’re not playing the right way. It’s quite the opposite.”
He also had high praise for Hu.
“Gary Hu is a dynamic player, very fast, so he can be a bit of a game-breaker here and there,” the coach said.
The second line of junior Ethan Potash, senior Michael Bronstein and sophomore Henry Sun has also been dangerous for MKA.
“[They’re] turning into a good compliment to that first line,” Cook said of the trio. “Working hard, playing good defensively and chipping in a goal here or there. Potash has a bit of a nose for the net.”
Defense has also been key for MKA this season so far.
“Anthony Zhang on the back end has done a really good job of leading our D-core. He’s coming into his own as a player,” Cook said. “Henry McCann and Miles
Bronson are two freshman defensemen who have really stepped their game up and are bringing a physical presence as a freshman, which is not always the case. They’re not afraid to get physical.”
Rounding out the lineup are freshman Evan Koserowski and sophomore Geoff Vaiana.
“[Koserowski] has shown flashes of the player he can become, he’s very young as a 13-year-old freshman, but he’s smart,” Cook said. “And [Vaiana] is a physical defenseman who is, again, growing by leaps and bounds.”
MKA’s season is almost as young as the roster is, so it’s too early to tell how good this team is, but so far the Cougars have shown themselves to be a tough, hard-working team that could make a lot of noise this year.