WEST ORANGE — Millburn is becoming quite adept at changing its style of play to suit its opponent.
The Millers took a couple shots to the jaw, leaving a bad taste in their mouth as Millburn quickly found itself down two to Mendham halfway through the first period of the Essex Holiday Tournament. The Millers, a smooth team in transition that relies more on its speed and skill rather than its physicality, Millburn has no problem playing that way if it has to.
Matt Riskin slashed the deficit in half and Jack Williams tied it on a beautiful finish with four seconds left in the opening frame as Millburn rebounded with five unanswered goals in a 5-2 triumph over Mendham in the holiday tournament at Codey Arena in West Orange.
In a testy tilt that saw 13 penalties called totaling 42 minutes in the box, including two 10-minute majors, Brian Kologlu’s power-play goal with 3:14 remaining in the second period snapped the 2-2 tie and Millburn never looked back.
“High intensity — a lot of bodies thrown around,” Millburn senior Brian Kologlu, who scored twice, said. “Mendham is a great team. We were pretty evenly matched. But we stayed out of (the scrums) for the most part, got pucks on the net and ultimately came out with the win — feels pretty good.”
Max Sudnow converted Millburn’s second power-play goal with 4:59 left to make it 4-2 before Kologlu added his second of the game with 3:53 remaining in regulation to ice it as the Millers extend its unbeaten streak to six games dating to Dec. 1 to stand 6-1-2.
“Our team doesn’t shy away from the physical part of the game but this was not the norm,” Millburn coach Brandon Doria said. “We just didn’t stop playing our game. Our strategy was to control what we could control, work hard and get pucks to their net. We knew they had a good goalie. We knew we had to get rebounds. We got that first one on a rebound then Jack’s goal with four seconds left in the first period was huge — besides being a super nice goal the timing was perfect.
“I was happy our kids kept their composure for the most part,” Doria said. “Staying calm in the second (period) really helped out a lot. We were able to keep our cool and get a couple power plays.”
Trailing 2-1 as the final seconds ticked away in the opening frame, Williams took possession at the blue line and made his way through two Mendham defenders a lot quicker than they anticipated before beating the Minutemen goalie left-to-right on a deft backhander to tie the game at two. It was a huge goal as Doria eluded to. The defending Kelly Cup champions, Millburn was dazed but coming away even after finding itself down two provided a big emotional lift before intermission.
“Sometimes it just takes one shot,” Williams said. “We started off pretty slow. I don’t know if it was them coming out really fast or we just weren’t there in the head, but we went back to basics and started putting some home.”
Ryan Bruin and Sean Mason scored 3:39 apart to give Mendham a 2-0 lead with 7:50 left in the first period. But emotions got the best of the Morris County school which threw pucks away.
It was just the second loss through 10 games this season for the Minutemen, though, which are enjoying a resurgent season at 8-2. With eight freshmen on the team, six of whom are seeing extended ice time, the future is bright.
“We came out hard but lost our momentum after they scored that second goal,” Jake Marszalek, who set up Mason’s goal to take a 2-0 lead, said. “We didn’t play our game. We let the game get the best of us. We’ll get ’em next time.”
Mendham endured a forgettable 1-17-1 campaign in 2017-18 campaign, but coach John Kovacs, in his 31st season behind the bench, has seen enough hills and valleys to weather any storm coming his way.
“We didn’t play well from the start. It was 2-0 but it was two fortunate goals and I think we showed our youth today,” Kovacs, the 1990 Star-Ledger State Coach of the Year who is 356-304-54 all-time in a coaching career that began at Morris Knolls in 1987-88, said. “We skated in mud from start to finish, but hey, you’ve got to play through it. It just didn’t work out the way we wanted to but we’ll battle back.”
Eli Nadell settled in to register 11 saves. Connor McDonough had 25 saves for Mendham, which has four young brothers of alumni on the team including three currently playing collegiate hockey (Grant/Griffin Jozefek, Paul/Stephan Michura and Sean/Kyle Caddo).
Both teams are back in action for two more games during the four-day, round-robin tournament that also features Madison, Mountain Lakes, Parsippany, Northern Valley, Nutley, Oratory Prep, Pascack Regional, Scotch Plains-Fanwood, Verona-Glen Ridge, Watchung Hills, West Morris and West Orange.
Millburn will take on Madison tomorrow at 3 pm.
Mendham meets Scotch Plains on Friday.
“I think we underestimated how fast and good they were in the corners,” Charlat, who assisted on Kologlu’s game-winner before setting up a pair of insurance goals in the third, said.
“But then we came out after those two goals, scored one, then another. It shows we can compete with upper-level teams. If we play our game we can beat anyone.”
— HockeyClan (@Hockey_Clan) December 26, 2018
Written by John Christian Hageny / @JCCSPORTS
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