16TH HALVORSEN CUP FINAL
1-KJS United (13-4-1) vs. 2-Mount Olive-Hopatcong-Hackettstown (9-10-1)
Tuesday, 8 p.m. at Mennen Arena
Previous meetings: KJS United swept the regular season series between the two, as it picked up a 4-1 win on Jan. 4 before notching a 5-3 win on Jan. 13.
— This is the first cup final appearance since the tri-op of Kinnelon, Jefferson, and Sparta was formed during the 2020-21 season. Kinnelon, as a standalone program, won a Halvorsen Cup title in 2019. Jefferson won a Haas Cup in 2007, while Sparta has never won a title.
— Mo-Ho-Ha had been to two-straight Haas Cup finals before moving up to the Halvorsen Division this year. It lost both times, with a 3-2 overtime loss to Mountain Lakes-Boonton in 2021 before a 2-1 loss to West Morris last year. Mount Olive, as a standalone program, has one cup title in its history- a Haas Cup which it won in 2014.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Anthony Prunty (21 g., 10 a.), Adam Stefancik (5 g., 19 a.), Anthony Pandiscia (8 g., 13 a.), Dillon Fleksher (6 g., 7 a.), Aiden Ferguson (2 g., 7 a.), Joey Kopec (9 g., 3 a.)
Goalie: Rylan Gibbons (10-4-1, .933 sv%)
A.J. Twist (10 g., 17 a.), Frank Diloreto (5 g., 18 a.), Christian Hertzig (13 g., 9 a.), Liam Murphy (8 g., 10 a.), J.L. O’Toole (9 g., 7 a.), Liam Parr (6 g., 6 a.), Braden Ensinger (1 g., 2 a.)
Goalie: Nick Gargiulo (4-7-1, .905 sv%)
HOW THEY GOT HERE
The first two years of the tri-op saw the program win four and five games, respectively. It has undergone a dramatic turnaround this year with 13 wins, and a perfect 8-0 record in the Halvorsen Division.
A major reason for that is the play of junior goalie Rylan Gibbons. He has established himself as the top netminder in the Halvorsen with a .933 save percentage, and gives his team a legitimate chance to win on any given night. The players in front of him have also taken a huge step forward this year, with Anthony Prunty leading the way along with some key contributors in Stefancik, Pandiscia, Fleksher, and Kopec.
It goes into this game coming off of its largest goal output of the season, when it netted eight goals in an 8-4 triumph over Madison in the semifinals. A big part of that was the play of the team’s newly-formed second line of Stefancik, Pandiscia, and Fleksher- which were involved in six of the team’s eight goals. That line will certainly be something to keep an eye on.
Mo-Ho-Ha has been snakebitten in Cup finals the past two years, with losses to Mountain Lakes-Boonton and West Morris in the last two Haas Cup finals. But the team made the jump up to the Halvorsen this season anyway after finishing in first place in the Haas in the regular season last year.
The group, which has no shortage of firepower, has adapted nicely to Halvorsen play with a 5-3 divisional record. Its overall record of 9-10-1 is a bit misleading as well, as the team has gone out and played very strong programs such as Mahwah, Ridge, Randolph, Morristown-Beard, and Verona-Glen Ridge.
It reached this championship game after a near-perfect defensive performance against Mendham in the semifinals, in which goalie Nick Gargiulo recorded a 27-save shutout in a 3-0 lead. The Mo-Ho-Ha defense gave up very few quality scoring chances, and played like a team that is ready for the challenges of postseason hockey. Ensinger and Parr are the leaders of the defense, while players like Twist, Hertzig, and Diloreto- among others- lead a very deep forward group.
Mo-Ho-Ha hopes that the third time will be the charm after back-to-back finals losses. It has the look of a team that is motivated to get that elusive title, and also appears to be well-built for the postseason as evidenced by its 3-0 win over Mendham in the semifinals.
But KJS United has been the top team in the division this season, wire-to-wire. With the top goalie in the division and a forward group that is clicking on all cylinders right now, look for KJS to come out with the win in a competitive battle.
KJS United over Mo-Ho-Ha
E-mail Mike Gurnis at firstname.lastname@example.org
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