MORRIS TWP. — Going into the 2021-22 season, there was a lot of question about where the offense would come from for Morris Knolls-Hills.
After graduating a very strong senior class, which included its top scorers in Jason Kwestel, Andrew Ryan, and Gehrig Eckoff, Morris Knolls-Hills figured to be a young team that might have its share of struggles in scoring, especially to start the year.
Through five games, the exact opposite has proven to be true.
A balanced offensive output has been the team’s hallmark, with 12 different players getting on the scoresheet in the early part of the season in outscoring its opponents 28-3 through five games. That continued on Tuesday night, as five different goal scorers, combined with a strong performance in net from junior goalie Aidan Marvin, helped Morris Knolls-Hills pick up a 5-1 win over Chatham at Mennen Arena.
Morris Knolls-Hills now holds a 5-0 overall record, with a perfect 4-0 record in the Mennen Division.
“Coming in (to the year), absolutely not,” Morris Knolls-Hills coach Tim Kepler said of whether he expected his team to be unbeaten in its first five games. “We didn’t know where our goals were going to come from. With graduating what we graduated, we weren’t sure who was going to step up and put the puck in the net. We just kind of kept it simple, told them to keep working. They’re doing what we’re telling them to do. Maybe we’re getting some puck luck right now to start the season, and that always helps. But it’s been nice.”
The game got off to an inauspicious start for Knolls-Hills, as it found itself trailing on the scoreboard for only the second time this year, just 3:29 into the game. Chatham’s Connor Gilleece put home the rebound after a 2-on-1 to give the Cougars the lead.
It only took 1:57 for Morris Knolls-Hills to respond, as Michael Simone tied the game up off assists from Ryan Manz and Jake Martinez. It was the first goal of the sophomore’s varsity career.
It took the lead for good with 1:19 to go in the first period, when Chatham goalie Michael Park had trouble corralling Luke Dickerson’s shot from the blue line, and Kyle Thornton was able to poke home the loose puck to make it a 2-1 game.
“Honestly, this group of boys is a great group,” goalie Aidan Marvin said. “I knew that no matter what, they’ll have my back. It doesn’t matter if I give up a goal, they’ll go right back and bury one for me.”
Ryan Manz scored early in the second period to extend the lead to 3-1, before Matt Kuglin made it a three-goal game with 5:37 to go in the third period.
Shortly after that goal though, Morris Knolls-Hills was charged with a five-minute major for boarding, giving Chatham a power play for essentially the final five minutes of the game. But thanks to several key saves from Marvin, Morris Knolls-Hills was able to weather the storm, and Luke Dickerson buried the empty-net goal with 1:10 left to seal the win.
With the win, Morris Knolls-Hills has played half of its Mennen Division schedule, and has gone an unblemished 4-0 and holds sole possession of first place. While there is still much hockey to be played, the team has put itself in a good position in one of the state’s toughest divisions.
“We’re never satisfied,” Marvin, who stopped 22 of 23 shots, said. “We always look to the next game, the next practice, no matter what. We’re not satisfied with a 5-1 win over Chatham, we want to win the next game as well.”
“It’s relieving. It’s definitely relieving,” Kepler added. “We told them that they all have to work and they all need to contribute. They want to be successful, they’ve all got to work every single shift, and they’ve all got to do their jobs. The hard work I think, is paying off by some of these guys. This is game five, and we’re still giving out first varsity goal pucks to players. Every game somebody’s getting their first varsity goal, which has been really successful for us.”
As for Chatham, the Cougars dropped to 3-3 in the early part of the season. It was the team’s first division game of the year, and played it without lineup regulars in Ronan Curry, Kiernan Smith, and Ethan McRae due to injuries.
It’s a very young Chatham squad which, like Morris Knolls-Hills, had to replace a very large senior class from last season.
“Losing nine-plus seniors from last year…we have five or six freshmen in the lineup, which is a good thing,” Chatham coach Brendon Herr said. “I think introducing these players early and getting them used to this atmosphere and the pace is good thing. I think that goes hand-in-hand. I think these freshmen have come a long way since day one, they’ve gotten used to the pace, the speed, and the play, and they know they have to play quicker. I think we’ve gotten better from day one which is a good thing. I think the mistakes we made tonight are all fixable and correctable mistakes, which we’ll work on in practice this week. Coming in there and being 3-3 with a new team, I’m not complaining.”
First star: Aidan Marvin, Morris Knolls-Hills, G, Jr.- 22 saves
Second star: Luke Dickerson, Morris Knolls-Hills, F, So.- 1G, 2A
Third star: Michael Simone, Morris Knolls-Hills, F, So.- 1 G, 1A
CHA — Connor Gilleece (Ryan Burke, Isaac Suh) 11:31
MKH — Michael Simone (Ryan Manz, Jake Martinez) 9:34
MKH — Kyle Thornton (Luke Dickerson, Bryan McCarter) 1:19
MKH — Ryan Manz (Luke Dickerson, Kyle Thornton) 10:45
MKH — Matt Kuglin (Michael Simone) 5:37
MKH — Luke Dickerson (Dante Tironi, Bryan McCarter) 1:10 ENG, SHG
Shots on goal: Chatham 23, Morris Knolls-Hills 19
Saves: Aidan Marvin (Morris Knolls-Hills) 22, Michael Park (Chatham) 14