The atmosphere at a Montclair vs. MKA ice hockey game is always a charged one, and it was no different for 45 minutes of game time Friday afternoon. After the buzzer, though, there was a noticeable drop-off in noise from the packed Clary Anderson Arena stands, a sign that nothing had been settled between these two cross-town rivals.
Junior forward Pat Ledgett scored a pair of goals for the Mounties, but a late equalizer from MKA’s Judson Potenza meant the teams settled for a 2-2 tie before a standing-room only crowd at the Chestnut Street rink.
The result snapped Montclair’s four-game winning streak in the series, and marked the first time the teams have played to a tie since the 2004-05 season. The rematch, which will decide the winner of the Montclair Cup, is scheduled for Friday, Jan. 27.
Ledgett looked like he might have the game-winner for MHS (4-5-3 overall record) with 11:58 remaining in the third period, forcing a turnover deep in the MKA end and promptly slotting the puck past Cougar goalie
Kenan Diano Jared Brunner (31 saves). It happened so quickly that the loud Mountie fanbase, located on the opposite side of the rink, wasn’t aware of what happened until they saw the score change on the scoreboard.
However, six minutes later, the Cougars (2-3-2) earned a power-play, and it took just six seconds for Potenza to beat Mountie goalie Ondrej Smalec (19 saves) with a well-placed shot.
Neither team could manage a goal or a dangerous chance over the final 5:16, and while the result was better than a loss, head coach Pat Verney believed the score didn’t reflect his squad’s level of play, pointing to Montclair’s 33-21 advantage in shots on goal.
“I thought we played better than the result,” Verney said. “We executed well. Our focus was on taking away their transition game, because MKA is an excellent transition team. We have a lot of respect for their coaches, their players. But this game was our style of game. It wasn’t up and down, it wasn’t the game where they had a ton of free space. If you told me we had that kind of shot advantage, I’d think we had won the game. But you tip your hat to them and their goalkeeper.”
Montclair’s roster of promising underclassmen has been hit by a series of injuries throughout the early part of the season, including a recent game in the Mounties’ holiday tournament in which six players were unable to suit up. After losing so many impact players from last season’s excellent squad, the combination of youth, injuries and a challenging schedule have been severe tests for MHS, Verney said.
But there have been bright spots, and among the brightest of late is Ledgett, the junior forward and alternate captain. He has scored in four straight games for MHS, and has emerged as Montclair’s most versatile and productive player this season. In addition to his team-high eight goals, Ledgett is also strong on defense, particularly on the forecheck, Verney said.
“We had guys on last year’s team, guys like Brock Bowers and Will Wrede, who did the exact same thing,” Ledgett said. “I just want to do whatever I can to help the team. We don’t have a lot of natural defenseman, so if I can chip in, I want to get back there and shut teams down.”
A successful forecheck produced Ledgett’s second goal Friday afternoon, while his first was a “dirty, scrappy” one, in Verney’s words. It came on a power play three minutes into the second period, when Diano saved shots from Myles Bylin and Kellum Foster-Palmer, only for Ledgett to crash the net and hammer the puck home to break a scoreless tie.
“Patty’s so unselfish,” the coach said. “He fills in wherever he needs to, on defense, on the forecheck, as our productive offensive guy. That’s why he’s one of our captains. He knows he’s going to have to be our best player every night, and I thought he was that tonight.”
MKA, under first-year head coach Tim Cook, looked undeterred after Ledgett’s opening goal. They dominated possession for much of the second period, and managed to get on the board when Matt Buckley made a spectacular move to skate between two defenders on the left wing, then slotted a beautiful wrist shot to the far post past Smalec.
The Cougars, who have excellent top-line talent and speed, managed to get behind Montclair’s defense on several occasions, but were unable to capitalize on several breakaways that could have put them in front.
Friday’s tie keeps Montclair in fourth place in the NJIHL-McMullen Division, with the Mounties facing a key non-division game against a strong Millburn team Tuesday afternoon at Clary Anderson Arena (4 p.m.). A league matchup with Verona follows on Thursday at the Codey Arena in West Orange.
MKA’s next game will be Monday against Mahwah at Clary.