By Mike Gurnis
Over the past couple of seasons, Mendham and Kinnelon are two programs that have taken its lumps through some very difficult seasons.
Kinnelon was a team that was in the top-tier Mennen Division from 2009-17, before a last-place finish ended with the team dropping down to the Halvorsen Division prior to the 2017-18 season. Mendham, on the other hand, suffered through a nightmare season last year, in which it won just one game during a last-place finish in the Halvorsen- which commenced in a drop to the Haas Division.
But this season has seen both programs bounce back in a big way, with Mendham taking first place in the Haas and Kinnelon finishing second in the Halvorsen. The two squads continued their resurgence on Thursday night, as Mendham downed Park Regional 8-1 to win the Haas Cup, before Kinnelon put together an impressive performance in a 6-1 win over Vernon to take home the program’s first Halvorsen Cup title.
Below are the recaps from both contests that were held at Mennen Arena.
MARSZALEK ‘S NATURAL HAT TRICK POWERS MENDHAM
The Haas Cup final ended up being a showcase for Mendham’s only senior, Jake Marszalek.
The senior scored the team’s first three goals in the first period- all of which were unassisted- and led his team to a dominant 8-1 win over second seed Park Regional for the program’s first Haas Cup title. It was the first cup title for the program overall since its win in the 2014 Halvorsen Cup.
Marszalek finished with four goals and two assists for a total of eight points, and has been a leader all year for a team that won one game in 2017-18- and has turned it into a 21-3 record this year.
“Coming from last year and winning one game, and now winning 21, it’s just huge,” Marszalek said. “It’s a completely different game (now) and it’s just awesome. We played hard and got the job done.”
Marszalek added, “It’s been a dream of mine since freshman year. It’s just been a huge responsibility taking care of all these kids, and I’ve had help from my two junior captains as well. They’ve been a huge help in bringing this team together and everything.”
Junior Ryan Bruin also had a hat trick in the win. While Marszalek is the team’s lone senior, the team’s success this year certainly means the future is bright for the program with a very talented sophomore and freshman class being a part of this championship season.
“It’s awesome,” Marszalek said. “All these kids are obviously highly skilled. They know what they’re doing. They’ve proved that even as freshmen, they can do it.
“I can only imagine what they’re going to be like as seniors.”
KINNELON ROLLS PAST VERNON FOR 1ST HALVORSEN CUP TITLE
Vernon got the best of Kinnelon in both regular-season meetings between the squads, with Vernon rallying in the third period for a 4-3 win in December followed by a 4-1 win just two weeks ago, which clinched the top seed in the division.
But the seedings, and the regular season, ultimately did not matter when Kinnelon and Vernon took the ice on Thursday for the Halvorsen Cup final. Kinnelon took control right off the bat, as Joey Arnold and Chris Kosco scored 45 seconds apart to take an early lead. It never looked back, as it rolled to an impressive 6-1 win over Vernon for the program’s first Halvorsen Cup title- and first outright cup title.
“We came out and we played a full game,” said Craig Smith, who finished with two goals and an assist. “It was a full 45 minutes of hockey. We came out and took it to them right from the puck drop. If we do that, we’re going to come out victorious in any game.”
The first period saw Kinnelon build a 3-0 lead, and it took a 4-1 lead going into the second period. The play of goaltender Brett Lewis helped keep Vernon off the board, as he made 23 saves, while Smith scored his second of the game late in the second before Anthony Fanelli capped the scoring early in the third to essentially seal the win.
“It was just a great feeling going out there and taking it to them from the puck drop,” Smith said. “These guys (Vernon) are great rivals with us and every game that we play with them is very intense. To come out with the win in this meaningful of a game is just great.”
Lewis added, “We played to our system all game. Thanks to the defense I was able to make easy saves and was able to get the win.”
The win was extra-special for the seniors, especially Smith and Fanelli, who remembered the feeling of getting to play in the Mennen Cup final as freshmen. It has been a long journey, going from Mennen Cup runner-ups in 2016, to a last-place finish in 2016-17, followed by a fifth-place finish in the Halvorsen Division last year.
While their careers have included a couple of the toughest seasons this program has seen in a long time, they will get to leave with a Halvorsen Cup title at a minimum.
“It feels amazing,” Fanelli said. “Mine and Craig’s freshman year, we were in the Mennen Cup final and it didn’t go our way. It’s just a great feeling to be back in a cup championship and especially to win it.”