By Mike Gurnis
MORRIS TWP. — Few things in sports are more dangerous than a team playing with nothing to lose.
With Montville needing a win on Saturday night against Kinnelon to clinch the Halvorsen Division title, Kinnelon was looking to play the spoiler role. The Colts, mired in one of their worst seasons in recent memory, went into Saturday’s game with just one win this season, and also sported an 0-7-2 mark in the division.
While it won’t be playing in the state tournament thanks to its 1-12-3 record, the defending Halvorsen Cup champions believe they’re a better squad than what their record indicates. It has played in many tight and competitive games- especially of late- and have one of the top goalies around in junior Brett Lewis to keep it in games.
For all of the struggles that this team has gone through for the past two months, the team’s patience was rewarded on Saturday night. It picked up timely goals from Connor LaPenna and Jared Fatzer, and received incredible goaltending from Lewis once again, as it picked up one of the biggest upsets of the year with a 2-1 win over Montville at Mennen Arena.
“It was their senior night, and the division (on the line), so we knew they’d come ready to play,” Kinnelon coach Jeff Myrhen said. “You want to give your best effort every night, but it’s motivation for us, you know. When they schedule senior night, you want to go out and do your best. We knew what was coming, but we feel we can compete with everybody on any given night.
“Our record doesn’t prove it, but we’re in every game. There’s really no blowouts. We’re a competitive team, and tonight we had it all clicking.”
The win was certainly welcome news for Roxbury coaches and players, as Montville’s loss means that Roxbury takes the Halvorsen regular season title, as well as the top seed for the Halvorsen Cup.
Brett Lewis made 32 saves in net for Kinnelon, and kept his team afloat throughout the game, as he has done on many occasions throughout his career thus far. He was under siege right from the beginning, as his team was out-shot 13-2 in the first period, but only surrendered the one goal.
“Coming from the Halvorsen Cup last year, we knew we have to play every game,” Lewis said. “We’re going to the postseason now and we have to play perfect hockey. We know we only have one win, but these guys, my defense, the forwards, we battled all season through injuries, through letdowns, so it was nice to get a win tonight, finally.”
Myrhen added: “He’s phenomenal every night. Every night he stands on his head. He’s the backbone of this team. I’m real proud of him.”
Kinnelon fell behind in the first period on Mike Chang’s goal in the final two minutes, but it came out stronger in the second period. It was finally rewarded late in the period, when Connor LaPenna’s shot made its way through traffic to tie the game up with 1:49 to go.
Then, in the third, Jared Fatzer cleaned up a rebound in front with a backhander, which gave his team the lead for good with 5:36 to go. It managed to hold off Montville in the final minutes, and killed off a penalty late to secure the win.
“I really haven’t had a lead all season,” Lewis said. “Once we got the lead, I knew we had to keep this one. We’ve had other games where we’ve had a lead- and we haven’t played- we’ve lost those games. We’re playing good hockey now and it shows.”
It’s a win that Kinnelon hopes will be a springboard to greater things. While it will not qualify for the state tournament, it will get the opportunity to play postseason hockey with it being the sixth seed in the Halvorsen Cup, where it will face third seed Mendham on Thursday at 6:15 at Mennen.
“We play much better hockey when we’re all together,” Lewis said. “Our issue has been trying to get a full game. We’ve gotten one period (of good hockey). We’ve lost by one goal to teams like Roxbury, who’s at the top of our division. We show signs of greatness, but we really need to play better when it comes to this tournament, and we know that going into it.”
M — Mike Chang (Matthew Crowell) 1:48
K — Connor LaPenna 1:49
K — Jared Fatzer (Tim Hausler, John Ramirez) 5;36
Shots on goal: Montville 33, Kinnelon 20
Saves: Brett Lewis (Kinnelon) 32, Adrian Prelich (Montville) 18
Contact Mike Gurnis at firstname.lastname@example.org