WEST ORANGE — Millburn didn’t take kindly to a previously-unbeaten Montville team coming to their barn and wasted little time letting them know how exactly how they felt about it.
Charles Palmer set up Sam Charlat just 34 seconds after the drop of the puck before scoring himself just 43 seconds later as Millburn got a two-goal jump 1:17 into the game and didn’t look back en route to a 4-1 triumph over Montville at cozy Codey Arena in West Orange.
“Our coach got us ready for this game at practice last night. We were really ready for this game and showed it,” Palmer, who finished with two goals and an assist, said. “This is one of the first years that our overall game is evenly good. Everyone has stepped up and we trust each other to do their job.”
A re-direction in front and a great shot from Palmer sent Millburn into the locker room with a 2-0 lead after one period of play. With its undefeated record on the line, Montville came out strong in the second period, however, and slashed its deficit in half just 48 seconds in when Joseph Nuzzi capitalized on the power play, assisted by Dan Scheine.
“Danny Scheine got the puck to me in front, the puck found me and I scored, back door,” Nuizzi said. “It’s something we’ve been working on in practice, but I felt like we could have had a couple more goals there.”
Millburn (10-2-2) continued to press and Palmer and Charlat connected again, this time 44 seconds apart, with the last one coming on the power play as Charlat started out behind the net, deked two defenders before slipping it through Montville goalie Adrian Prelich, five-hole, with 3:01 remaining in regulation.
“To tell you the truth I didn’t even see it go in until I saw Spencer Brown celebrating,” Charlat said. “I saw it go five-hole. I just crashed the net and hoped it went in. It was a great feeling when it did.
“If we come out like we usually do, play well and be consistent we knew we could beat them and we did,” Charlat said. “It was a great start.”
Montville (10-1-3) had its chances to climb back into the game with four power play opportunities in the third period but could not solve Millburn goalie Eli Nadell a second time bringing their impressive 13-game unbeaten streak dating to November 25 to an end.
Nadell finished with 19 saves while Prelich, who kept Montville in it for most of the game, stood tall with 24 saves of his own.
“It was a tough way to lose,” Nuzzi said. “We were dying. We didn’t get a hard enough fore-check, didn’t get the job done in front and not enough shots on their goalie.”
“Certainly not the start we were looking for,” Montville coach Alex Beatrice said. “Definitely can’t blame the goalie. He’s been there for us all year. We didn’t play our game tonight. All year we’ve been stressing two guys fore-checking on the puck but our fore-check was weak. Millburn is a good team. They played the game the right way, finished their checks hard, for sure, definitely one of the better teams we’ve played all year and we knew that coming in which makes it all the more frustrating.”
Up next for Montville is a home-and-home with Newton-Lenape Valley on Jan. 17 at Mennen Arena before heading to Skylands Ice World for the second stanza on Jan. 20.
Beatrice believes getting its first loss out of the way now, in January, is better suited than coming at a more pivotal time later in the season.
“Very rarely do you see a team go the whole year undefeated. I don’t think there was any misconception we were going to do that. Would I rather have won? Sure, but you learn from your losses,” Beatrice, in his first season as coach at Montville said. “For me, this is the first time I’ve coached these guys after a loss. Interested to see how they respond.”
Both Beatrice and Millburn coach Brandon Doria played for Seton Hall Prep.
“I just wanted us to get back to basics: passing, shooting, going to the net,” Doria said. “I reminded them we’re successful because we do certain things well. I want to stop doing what they want us to do and focus on what’s best for the team. We have a tough stretch coming up and want to make sure their minds were right.”
Millburn enjoyed a 17-7-3 finish last winter, advancing all the way to the Kelly Cup finals. This season, the Essex County team is looking to take the next step.
“We need to work on breakouts some more, to be honest,” Palmer added. “We were also slow against Nutley the other day but there is trust in this team that everyone will do their job.”
“I think we can keep it going through the season into states and do well,” Charlat added. “I think we can.”
Written by John Christian Hageny / @JCCSPORTS
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