By Mike Gurnis
When asked about his freshman goaltender in Elliot Marken, Morris Knolls-Hills coach Tim Kepler had an eye-opening response.
“He’s probably our most composed player as a freshman,” Kepler said. “He speaks up in the locker room. He keeps his composure.”
Composure is such a key trait for any goaltender, and playing the competition that Morris Knolls-Hills faces night-in and night-out in the Mennen Division certainly presents a challenge for anyone, let alone a freshman.
But Marken has risen to the challenge in the beginning of his varsity career, and has been called on to start all eleven games for his squad thus far. He has helped his team build a 6-3-2 record and holds a .903 save percentage and has held teams to 2.18 goals per game.
“I’ve never played kids this much older than me,” Marken said after posting a shutout against Morristown back in December. “There were a lot of nerves in that first game against Ramapo. I think it kind of showed, giving up some early goals and then settling down. That’s kind of been the story of each game…early goals, then settling in and doing good. Even against Randolph, I gave up two in the first and then only one the rest of the game.”
That first game against Ramapo saw Marken give up goals in the first and second period in a 2-1 loss, but ultimately finished with 24 saves on 26 shots. His next start, against a Morristown-Beard team which is now ranked in the Top 10 in New Jersey, saw him stop 24 of 25 shots in a 6-1 win, his team’s biggest win thus far. He helped his team earn a 3-3 tie with state-ranked Randolph back in December as well,
“As I go through games, I get to see what everybody’s like,” Marken said. “The nervousness I get going into the game sort of dissipates going on, because hockey is hockey, no matter who you’re playing. Whether it’s Randolph, or a JV team. I’m getting more confident as the season goes on I think, and I’m getting used to playing against these teams.”
Morris Knolls-Hills has been used to quality goaltending over the years, especially after having the services of Ty Franchi and Andrew Rush for the past few years, with Franchi being the primary starter and lifting this team to a Public A state title last winter.
Those were big shoes to fill for Marken, who has made a strong impression on his teammates and has earned the respect of the locker room in his first months at the varsity level.
“It’s great to have him back there,” junior Andrew Ryan said. “Losing Franchi and Rush, that was definitely something that we knew was going to be hard to replace. But he’s doing a great job, if not better, than what we hoped. He’s so young, and and I know when I was a freshman on this team I definitely wasn’t as confident as he is. The fact that he has that confidence is great, and it really helps our team.”
And as games continue to become weighed with even more importance as the stretch run of the season approaches, Morris Knolls-Hills knows it can count on its goalie as it looks to claim its second-straight Public A title, as well as make a run at the Mennen Cup.