Mark Janifer is prepared to saddle up again with the Montclair Mounties.
Janifer, an assistant for the past four seasons, has taken over as the hockey coach at Montclair, replacing the highly successful Pat Verney.
Verney, who fashioned a 173-89-14 record in 11 seasons at Montclair – including a 16-6-3 log last season – stepped down last month to spend more time with his young family. Verney totaled 301 points starring at Hudson Catholic in the late 1990s, then had the distinction of earning The Star-Ledger Coach of the Year honors in two separate areas – Central Jersey Coach of the Year in 2007 at Hillsborough and Essex County Coach of the Year in 2009 at Montclair.
“The decision to step down was extremely difficult,” Verney, who was inducted into the New Jersey High School Hockey Hall of Fame in 2014, said. “At the beginning of each season, as coaches we demand a lot from players in our program. We tell them the expectation duting the season is that the only things coming before the commitment to our team is their family life and academics. Based on some of the truly exciting events in my family life I needed to prioritize that commitment to my family so it was a very difficult and emotional day for me informing them.
“The kids handled it with the maturity that has always defined them,” Verney said. “The student-athletes at Montclair have been some of the finest and most dedicated players over the past decade. They deserve the most dedicated coach and my obligation to my family prevented me from giving them the time they needed.”
“It was a very tough choice for Pat,” Janifer said, “but your family comes first. I guess I am hoping to fill the void. I’d have still been very happy working with Pat. He’s a great coach and the Montclair players were so lucky to have a coach of his caliber the past 11 seasons leading them. I guess I have to help turn the page and more forward, but I am really excited about this opportunity.”
The 60-year-old Janifer, a true gentleman and hockey sage, brings a wealth of coaching experience behind the Montclair bench.
After playing for two seasons at Harvard, he broke into the high school coaching ranks with flair, guiding Whippany Park to its lone Mennen Cup in 1985, his second season at the Morris County school. Janifer left Whippany Park after six seasons when the school combined with Hanover Park. He then served as the bench boss at Morristown, Montclair and West Orange.
The coaching transition is a smooth one as Janifer possesses strong ties to the Montclair program. Aside from assisting Verney the past several seasons, Janifer’s two sons, Clark and Evan, also skated and produced very impressive careers with the Mounties under Verney. Janifer also was an assistant for several seasons under Bruce Parker (another NJ Hall of Fame inductee) before Verney took command.
A valuable insight into Janifer’s coaching influence and skill has been through some of his former players who have successfully filled the New Jersey scholastic hockey coaching ranks – Tom Levis (Park Regional), John Puskar (Park Regional, the County College of Morris and Morristown-Beard), Dean Portas (Ramsey, Glen Rock) and Brack Healy (West Orange and Montclair Kimberley Academy).
“Mark was really good at making us understand that you can improve your hockey skills off the ice and how conditioning was the biggest key,” recalled Levis, who has 254 victories as he enters his 24th season at Park Regional, of his high school hockey mentor. “Our dryland training back then was way beyond what other teams did at that time and it’s the main reason we were able to win the Mennen Cup in 1985.
“I still remember coach Janifer’s simple quote to us, ‘You make it, or you break it’.”
Janifer’s overall tenet is still basic and focuses on molding responsibility to the team.
“It starts with the players,” he said. “They have to play the game, so I always expect them to come with a positive attitude and strong work ethic. They have to learn their role, know their role, do their job and put the team before self-interest. I still feel that’s always been a successful way to coach and mold a team. When guys buy into that and play for the team and not themselves, good things will happen.”
“Mark has had so much success wherever he has gone as coach,” Verney said. “He has a ton of coaching experience and is genuinely loved by his players. I was fortunate enough to coach all three of his children, who were all standout players, but more importantly wonderful people. Mark is a terrific role model for all the players in our program.”
As for his former coaches who have moved on and run the bench themselves, Janifer is quite proud of them all.
“It’s so gratifying to have coached them and to see how well they’ve done in their own coaching careers,” Janifer said. “It’s pretty special to see the game of hockey continue to grow and evolve and have players that you coached give back to the kids in their own right.”
Montclair won’t have any easy task when it opens this 2018 winter campaign. Janifer will lead the Mounties against powerful Summit, which captured the NJSIAA Public C state title as well as the McInnis Cup last season, in the season-opening contest on Nov. 27.
“Yes, that will be some first game,” said Janifer. “They look like the favorite to win our conference and a state championship again. That will be a huge challenge for us.”
“I can’t think of a better man for the job than Mark Janifer,” Healy added. “He has an undeniable passion for hockey and truly enjoys working with young men and women. Coach Janifer is a man of integrity and character and I have no doubt he will continue to build the culture that Coach Verney has created over the past 10 years. They both understand the importance of doing things the right way. It’s a refreshing approach to high school athletics. The winning takes care of itself if you focus on building high-character kids. Montclair is very fortunate to have him back as their leader.”
“For as hard a decision as this has been personally, I am so happy with the transition plan Athletic Director Dr. Scarpello put in place,” Verney added. “Having both Mark Janifer and James Fitzhenry still playing large roles in the program moving forward was a terrific decision — they are both tremendous hockey coaches. We have one of our strongest freshmen classes entering high school this year and the arrow is certainly going up for our program.”
Written by Paul Bruno / @PaulBrunoHS
Special to HockeyClan
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