MORRIS TOWNSHIP — The Montville players seemed to be all in agreement that the difference was a systematic defensive shutdown they were able to employ in the Haas Cup Championship.
Some timely goal scoring didn’t hurt, either, as Daniel Scheine, Nicholas Mangano, Jonathan Cuozzo and Joseph Nuzzi each scored, and Adrian Prelich took care of the other end in making 13 saves to send top-seeded Montville to a 4-0 victory over third-seeded Park Regional in the championship of the Haas Cup at Mennen Arena.
The Haas Cup title was the first for Montville (17-2-4) since it captured the chalice in 2009. The Mustangs, who took the Halvorsen Cup in 2015, extended their winning streak to six games and the unbeaten run to eight (7-0-1). Montville finished 4-17-1 last season.
“We knew from the start we had to bear down and have a really good forecheck against Park,” said Mangano, a senior co-captain, who also finished with an assist. “Our defense was super, and I think we were able to outwork them for much of the game. Our system is defense first, and this was probably our best effort of the season. This was a great effort and it’s a super feeling to win the Haas Cup.”
The triumph was the third this season for Montville over Park Regional (14-8-2), earning an 8-0 victory on Jan. 27 after edging Park, 4-3, on Dec. 16. Park was looking for its eighth Haas Cup overall and first since winning it in 2016.
“They physically got us off of our game and didn’t give us much offensively,” said veteran Park coach Tom Levis, who was seeking his 255th career victory. “I don’t think we ever got into the flow of the game. You have to give credit to Montville, they played an excellent game. We just were never able to get going offensively, and we didn’t generate enough shots.”
Montville’s tight-checking and solid gap control from its defensemen limited Park to just 13 shots in 45 minutes of hockey – and eight through the first two periods.
Defensemen Mathew Szwagulinski, Ryan Perretta, Max Baresich and Christopher Squirlock were outstanding along the blue line for Montville.
“This was just a tremendous effort from all of our players,” said first-year Montville coach Alex Beatrice, the former Morristown-Beard assistant who also starred scholastically at Seton Hall Prep and Randolph. “You have to give credit to our defense tonight. We’ve had some ups and downs this season, but we were so consistent tonight and Adrian Prelich showed so much poise in net for a freshman. This was our best defensive game all year.
“We had a good forecheck going all night, put two guys on the puck whenever we could, and we were fundamentally sound. For me as a coach? This has been a blast and I couldn’t have asked for a better group of players.”
Montville, which totaled 25 shots on net, took the lead when Daniel Scheine finished off a two-on-one with Mangano and buried a wrister 2:05 into the contest for a 1-0 lead.
Cuozzo got the crucial second goal when he knocked in a pass from Nuzzi to extend the Mustangs lead to 2-0 3:27 into the second.
Two minutes later, Park Regional suffered a significant loss when standout junior center Jordan Handler dove for a loose puck skating at full speed to get off a shot at Prelich (13 saves) and crashed head-first into the end boards with 9:33 left in the second period.
Handler was down on the ice for several minutes before skating off with assistance from two teammates. He did not return to the game.
“That was scary,” Levis said. “We were relieved he was able to get up and come off the ice, but he was going through the concussion protocol. He wanted to come back and play, but that was out of the question.”
The loss of Handler, who has 30 points on 11 goals and 19 assists, and his speed was missed by Park, which was put in a 3-0 deficit after Nuzzi redirected a point shot by Perretta for a power play goal 3:02 into the third. Thomas Nees also picked up an assist on the goal.
Park Regional finished 0-for-3 on the power play while Montville capitalized twice on its four extra-man opportunities.
Mangano closed out the scoring on a power play goal with just 18 seconds on the clock with an assist from Perretta.
“We had to play strong defense and stick to our forecheck,” said Cuozzo. “The biggest thing we talked about before the game was to come out and play hard in the first period. We had great defense backing us up. We got the lead early but even after the first period I kind of sensed a good calmness in our locker room. The first goal was big, and it really pushed us. This is really amazing, to go all the way and win the Haas Cup.”
Written by Paul Bruno / @PaulBrunoHS
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