By Mike Gurnis
MORRIS TOWNSHIP — It was certainly reasonable to expect Morristown-Beard to not be at the top of its game in its season-opener on Friday.
After all, it had just returned to practice this week after a COVID-19 related shutdown, and had just a handful of practices to prepare for a Morristown team which already had played two games. Even more, it was without its top-line center in Nick Vantassell due to injury.
But when it took the ice on Friday night, the lack of practice time and the absence of one of its top forwards proved to be a minor speed bump for Morristown-Beard. The Crimson received contributions from all over the lineup, led by Seth Kaplan’s two goals, to pick up a 6-1 win over Morristown at Mennen Arena.
It did get out to a bit of a slow start in a very even first period, but Kareem Alazem netted his first goal of the season with 6:09 to go to put Morristown-Beard ahead. From that point on, it seemed to get better as the game went on, showcasing its speed and depth.
“I think the guys had a lot of energy,” Morristown-Beard coach Scott Greene said. “They’re obviously excited to get going. That was in our favor a bit. I think things weren’t as crisp as we’d like them to be, but given the amount of time, I thought it was pretty good. They definitely got a little bit more comfortable as the game went on, the passing got a little crisper, and they were hitting the net a bit more with their shots as well.”
The second period saw it settle in even more, as Kaplan buried a goal from the left circle off a feed from Andrew Low early on. Then, senior Cam Fernandez set up his brother, freshman Henry Fernandez, for his first varsity goal with 1:19 to go, extending the advantage to three.
It kept its foot on the gas in the third period, as Hollis Humphries, Kaplan, and Noah Jones each got on the board to put the game away- despite a goal from Morristown’s Harry Santen early in the period.
While Kaplan scored twice, it received contributions from all over the lineup, as nine different players got on the score sheet. It was a welcome sight for a team that was missing such a dynamic player in Vantassell, and shows just how deep and talented this team is.
Greene specifically singled out the team’s third line, comprised of Dylan Strauss, Roman Berger, and Manu Verpoucke for their ability to provide quality minutes while giving its top two lines some rest.
“They responded pretty well to (Vantassell’s injury),” Greene said. “I thought our third line was excellent today. Dylan Strauss, he was the player of the game for us. He was just fantastic, especially for it being his fourth varsity game- he was all over the place on the forecheck, back check, turning pucks over. He put in quite an effort out that. Roman Berger on his left wing, and Manu Verpoucke, I thought they played really solid.
“They looked good in practice, but I wasn’t sure how they’d do getting into the first game, but that really helped balance out our other lines. The other lines were able to get a bit of a breather, bit of a rest in, and the top two lines are very skilled. The guys on the third line have skill, grit, and a good work ethic.”
In all, it was a successful season opener for Morristown-Beard, and it knows more than anybody how important it is to get off to a good start to the season. Just last year, it lost its first two games to Randolph and Morris Knolls-Hills, before turning its season around by winning 20 of its final 24 games, claiming the Mennen Division and Cup titles in the process.
“We talked to the guys about it, with it being a short season, it’s almost like a tournament or a playoff, really,” Greene said. “It’s six weeks, so every game is really important. We can’t afford to really stumble out of the gate, because we don’t know how many games we’ll get. We’re hoping we’ll get 15 in, but in the situation with COVID, you just never know. So that’s on our side as far as our guys getting up and excited for every game.”
— One player to keep an eye on this season for Morristown-Beard will be junior defenseman Kareem Alazem. A transfer from Landon School in Washington, D.C., he showed off his ability to move the puck and make plays on the defensive end on Friday. He scored the game’s opening goal, finishing off a feed from Cam Fernandez in front in the first period. He’s already committed to play Division I hockey at RPI.
— Seth Kaplan was all over the place for Morristown-Beard. He led the way with two goals, but could’ve easily had a couple more. Specifically, in the opening minutes of the game, he used his speed to cut his way through multiple Morristown defenders to create a breakaway, which was deflected out of play by Morristown goalie Dylan Peck. He appears to be firing on all cylinders after producing well a year ago while coming off knee surgery.
— Morristown-Beard will have a very tall task in front of it on Monday, when it travels to face one of the top teams in the state in Bergen Catholic. It likely won’t have any on-ice practice between now and then.
— Make no mistake about it- Friday’s loss notwithstanding- this is a very strong Morristown team. They’ll have a chance to get back on the winning side of things on Monday when it takes on Roxbury.
First star: Seth Kaplan, Morristown-Beard- 2 goals
Second star: Hollis Humphries, Morristown-Beard- 1 goal, 2 assists
Third star: Henry Fernandez, Morristown-Beard- 1 goal (first career varsity goal)
MB — Kareem Alazem (Cam Fernandez, Hollis Humphries) 6:09
MB — Seth Kaplan (Andrew Low, Dylan Strauss) 10:16
MB — Henry Fernandez (Cam Fernandez), 0:17
MB — Hollis Humphries (Jake Ochab, Logan Jaeger), 14:03
MOR — Harry Santen PPG 13:15
MB — Seth Kaplan (Charlie Guida, Jake Ochab) 10:19
MB — Noah Jones (Hollis Humphries) 0:02
Shots on goal: Morristown-Beard 32, Morristown 21
Saves: Dylan Peck (Morristown) 26, Luke McManus (Morristown-Beard) 20