MHS wins SCT hockey title

Hover delivers in final

By: Justin Feil
   The Montgomery High ice hockey team’s 7-4 win over Pingry in the Somerset County Tournament final on Monday gave it a championship that wasn’t possible before, a championship that gives an early-season indication of the Cougars’ strength. And it’ll be a nice accomplishment to look back on at the end of the season and beyond.
   "It was the first year for it and we wanted to get our team on the board," said Mickey Hover, who had a goal and three assists Monday. "We knew there were good teams in the tournament. We wanted to show what we could do. We really wanted to play Ridge, but we’ll take it.
   "Every other sport has the county tournament. At the end of the season banquet, all the county champions get called up. Hockey’s never had it. Now we have the top team in the county for hockey. We’ve kind of got our name out there. We can show what we can do now."
   After Jon Jacey put second-seeded Montgomery on the scoreboard off an assist from Sean Hover, the Hover brothers combined to give the Cougars a 2-0 lead over the No. 4 seed when Mickey scored his third goal of the county tournament off a feed from Sean.
   "He’s solid on defense," Mickey said of his sophomore brother. "He can really pass it. He has great puck sense. On the breakout, he’s real calm with it."
   Mickey used to see that side in Sean from his spot between the pipes, but midway through last season, Mickey moved from goalie to forward to make way for Kevin Moore and added a physical presence and some scoring to the second line. This year, he’s settled in at left wing while Moore and Joe Nosker, who earned the shutout in a 4-0 county semifinal win over Bridgewater, have served as standout goalies.
   "I kind of knew my role this year," said Mickey, a senior. "I just wanted whatever worked out for the team. Kevin stepped up and showed he could do it. I got a feel for our system and how we play defensively last year. It was good to know exactly where I’d be this year."
   Mickey’s scoring is up. He already has eight goals and eight assists through 10 games after recording a goal and five assists last season. It’s just part of the comfort level he’s in this year as well as being a team leader.
   "It’s not an easy transition," Sean said. "He’s always had good hands and good shooting ability. He has such a good hockey sense, he knows what to do. Seeing it from the net is a different perspective. He knows what goalies are thinking.
   "He’s a physical presence on the ice. After the first huge hits that he has, the other teams are afraid."
   Sean admits those big hits are normally supposed to be the calling card of defensemen, but "he kind of took it away from us." Mickey has lost between 40 and 45 pounds, but that’s only helped him get into opponents faster and to loose pucks quicker than he did before. His physical lead was part of the reason that Pingry had such problems scoring at even strength with their dump and chase offense.
   "He’s a forward now," said MHS coach Yury Tarnavskyj. "In the midseason last year we pulled that off and it’s paid off handsomely. He’s lost some weight and gotten faster. He was a leader before and he’s matured even more. He provides us with a player that we really need. He gives us key leadership."
   In the meantime, Sean plays alongside Jimmy Yetter, one half of the other brother combination for the Cougars along with Mike Yetter, to give MHS two of the best young defensemen around.
   "Sean is a sophomore," Tarnavskyj said, "but he plays like a senior. He stepped up last year like Jimmy Yetter. They were two of our top ‘D.’ He’s also picked up his game on the puck. He’s a good hitter too and he plays hard. We’re really pleased with the Hover family."
   The two, who come from a large family, prefer to just be contributors for their bigger family, the Cougar hockey team. While both play for the Nassau Midget club team, they’ve established themselves as vital parts of the MHS team that is 7-3 and off to the best start that Tarnavskyj can remember.
   "I think we still have more to come," said Mickey of the Cougars, who play at Middletown South 5:15 p.m. Sunday. "We’ve yet to show our top line at full strength. J.D. broke his finger in the Bridgewater game and had two goals (Monday). Mark (Fedak) has had a separated shoulder and he’s still not a 100 percent, but he does a great job of backchecking and forechecking. Doug Desario was sick and once we get him back, we’re looking for more. He’s a big part of our team. We’re not done yet."
   There is still improvement to be made. Sean is feeling more and more comfortable with his role for the Cougars as he and Yetter improve together.
   "This year, we’ve played a lot more," Sean said. "We’re playing every other shift. Last year, we rolled six ‘D.’ We’re getting used to playing with the people we’re playing with and knowing what they can do. I also think we’ve gotten more used to the high school tempo."
   Montgomery showed it was at a different level in the county tournament, but it’s been that way before it began. Monday’s win in the title game was the fifth straight, and in the last four games, the Cougars have scored 24 goals.
   "We have a lot of guys chipping in," Tarnavskyj said. "That’s what makes the difference. I think we had five different scorers against Pingry. We knew they upset (top-seeded) Ridge and if you beat somebody like Ridge, it means you did something right.
   "We were expecting a battle and I give them credit, they had an outstanding power play. They scored all their goals on the power play. They kept coming. But we always returned to a two-goal lead when they scored. As soon as they got one back, we got another one. Then finally when it was 6-4, we got an empty-netter."
   "The fans helped our momentum too," added Sean, who has a goal and five assists this season. "It just helped a lot having us come straight back. We had the two-goal lead from the start. And once they scored, we got it back. For the ‘D,’ it helps everyone play better."
   MHS looks to keep its streak alive on Sunday against one of the top teams in its league, Middletown South, one of the teams it beat in its run to the league championship last year but lost to earlier this year.
   The Cougars have proven to be tough to beat in tournament play. The first county tournament was no different, but now it makes MHS a target for opponents, this season and in future county tournaments. Winning the first is something special for the Cougars.
   "It’s going to be important because we have a very solid team," Sean said. "We’re losing a lot of guys, but we have a good chance to win again. It doesn’t have to be like a dynasty, but I think we can be a dominant force in Somerset County."