MONTCLAIR — Ice hockey can be an emotional, physical game. The ability to keep your emotions in check, to shrug off the last hit or late slash can often be the difference between winning and losing.
Cranford and Montclair Kimberley both share the same team nickname “the Cougars,” but that is about all they had in common as 65 minutes in penalties — 20 minors and three majors — were evenly distributed between them in a penalty-riddled affair. But when the mismatched man-advantages were presented, Montclair Kimberley’s power play unit capitalized more often than not.
The five-man unit consisting of Oscar Worob, Brian Schindler, David Chen, Alex Stetkevych and Benji Peiffer combined for six power-play goals as Montclair Kimberley Academy defeated Cranford, 10-2, at Clary Anderson Arena in Montclair.
Worob, a senior forward, had a hand in all six power-play goals, striking for five while setting up Schindler for another to extend MKA’s lead to four in what was a tightly contested 5-2 game at the end of two feisty frames. Peiffer, a freshman, connected 2:26 into the third before Chen added an unassisted goal with 6:24 left as MKA pulled away late to remain steadfast and undefeated at 5-0-1.
“Scoring-wise this was a peak for me,” Worob, a standout for the New Jersey Hitmen U18 team, said. “We’ve been moving the puck. We practice the power play a lot, zipping it around, working it around defenders, really getting the puck moving and tonight everything clicked.”
“We have a system that works and its our most-skilled guys, our guys on the power play,” Schindler, who finished with a goal and three assists, said. “I think we all understand each other pretty well. If you give us enough chances, we’re going to bury.”
A 1-0 game after one period of play would not be indicative as how it would all play out as the opening first gave way to a wild, six-goal, penalty-fueled second frame. Tripping, hooking, slashing, holding, cross-checking and unsportsmanlike conduct calls littered the scoresheet defining what was scrum after melee as coaches tried to reign in players while referees and officials struggled to keep up.
Two Cranford minor penalties translated into two more power-play goals for MKA as Worob completed the hat trick 6:44 into the second period to make it 4-0 when Cranford coach Mike Ozolnieks called timeout to settle his team down.
The ploy worked as Jake Icklan and Ryan Echavarria found the back of the net as Cranford climbed back to within three.
“We started playing with some heart and some fire but then we started taking stupid penalties again,” Echavarria said. “We just have to play smarter and use our heads.”
All told, there 24 minutes in penalties handed out in the six-goal second period resulting in three power-play goals. But that was nothing compared to the third which featured another 35 minutes of fisticuffs, including two major infractions.
“It’s high school hockey — things get rough,” Schindler said. “We knew coming into the game it was going to be a tough game based on the past couple of years. They played a couple of teams we’ve already played like Westfield and tied them like us, but tonight we knew we could be the more skilled team if we played with a cool head, not taking that retaliatory penalty. We scored a lot of goals on the power play tonight.”
“They had a little momentum going, we just needed to settle down,” said Worob, whose five-goals were a career-high. “”We were just trying to not lose focus. We always respect our opponents and tonight was no different. The hot start was really helpful in this game.”
With the retirement of Rich Hurley after 26 years, (292-272-39 all-time, including one 12-10 season at Johnson) Ozolnieks, a 2008 graduate and former player under Hurley, has Cranford a respectable 3-3-1 through the team’s first seven games.
“We had flashes of playing our brand of hockey,” Ozolnieks said. “When we’re playing that style we can play with any team this season. But those flashes where we’re not playing our game is where we run into problems.”
Cranford had 13 penalties called against it while Montclair Kimberley had 10. The difference was MKA went 7-for-10 with the power play, while Cranford was an abbreviated 0-for-7.
Ozolnieks liked the physicality Cranford employed but stressed the importance of staying out of the penalty box.
“I’m trying to get these guys to play physical but we’re getting into trouble with the penalty box — that’s when the game became a rout,” Ozolnieks said.
“If they want to make selfish plays then they’re going to face the consequences. That’s not the kind of hockey we want to play so until they buy into our system and play for their teammates then we’re going to keep having this problem.”
MKA coach Tim Cook declined comment after the tilt but assistant coach Ken Smith was pleased with the team’s special teams performance.
“The boys move the puck really well, they’re a cohesive unit,” Smith said. “They’re smooth with tape-to-tape passes. They know each other and they have a good system going.”
“It’s good confidence for the team when we’re scoring like this,” Schindler said. “And when it’s spread out amongst the team it feels good.”
Montclair Kimberley Academy is back in action Friday night against Livingston. Cranford will reset against Oratory Prep on Dec. 17.
“We need to learn from our mistakes,” Echavarria added. “We’ll learn from this game and come back hard.”
Written by John Christian Hageny / @JCCSPORTS
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