Hover brothers share MHS hockey success

Duo helps Cougars run win streak to 11 games

By: Justin Feil
Kevin Hover was a loyal fan at Montgomery High ice hockey games when his older brothers Mickey and Sean played together.
   "I went to all of them," recalled Kevin. "I even got out of school for a few of their games. It was definitely a thing I wanted to do. I wanted to be at the level they got to. It was inspirational to watch."
   Kevin is getting his chance this season to contribute for the Cougars as a teammate to Sean, who is a senior defenseman. Mickey graduated two years ago after making a dramatic move from goal to first-line forward, and Kevin has picked up right where Mickey left off, right down to the sturdy build and soft hands.
   "His style of hockey is what I strive for," Kevin said. "He played with a lot of contact and being able to put the puck in the net. He was an all-around player.
   "I was a defenseman for my whole career. I used to watch (Sean) when I was a squirt and peewee. Once I got to high school, they moved me to wing and it opened the game up for me."
   Last season, Kevin split his time between junior varsity and varsity, but has fit well on MHS’ third line that is dominated by fellow sophomores. Currently his line includes Mike Papsin and Mike Tuosto. Jeff Cordozo, a junior, is injured but has been on the line before. Papsin scored the first goal of a three-goal third period in a 5-1 win over previously unbeaten Steinert on Tuesday.
   "Our depth is a major key there," said MHS head coach Rob Scarpa, whose team won, 8-1, over South Brunswick on Wednesday to improve to 12-1-0. "Our ability to give our first two lines a break is a big advantage. Not only do we have a third line that’s not a negative, they can score goals. They outplay first and second lines of other teams. It’s not like I have to put out a line I can’t trust. It’s nice to have that depth."
   The depth has been paying off all season. That sort of depth reminds the current MHS seniors like Sean of their role two years ago when the team advanced to the state tournament quarterfinals and won 19 games in Mickey’s senior season.
   "We have a good core of guys," Sean said. "With my brother’s class, they have the same thing. I hope they have the same experience we had as juniors and seniors."
   Kevin’s class would probably prefer not to repeat last year’s four-win season. But even as the Cougars struggled to win the close games, they knew they were building something special.
   "We knew we were on the cusp," said Sean, who scored the game-winner in the win over South Brunswick on Wednesday. "Last year, it was a tough division. We knew we had a lot of talent. When we were with my brother’s class, we knew we had the potential to be a good team. It all fell into place."
   Kevin has been happy to help the Cougars, who won their 11th straight Wednesday to improve to 7-0 in the Central White Division. He contributed a late second-period assist in the win, his second of the season to go with four goals. Those contributions from the third line make MHS one of the better teams in the state.
   "We see our role," Kevin said. "A lot of other teams only have two lines. That burns out their forward. Us having three lines, after the first two periods other teams’ guys are tired. We’re just playing solid D and helping the other two lines catch their breaths.
   "(Scarpa) basically said that we’re going to get a good amount of shifts. We weren’t going to roll us. We had to fight for ice time. Once he saw we could stay and play at the defensive end and even put the puck in the net, we’ve played more. In the past, with Mickey’s team, they had a line of sophomores. They were just a defensive line. If they scored, it was a bonus."
   Scarpa likes the make-up of the third line. Papsin is the fastest end-to-end skater on the team. Tuosto is another physical player like Kevin Hover. Cordozo brings a little more finesse to that line when he’s healthy.
   "They got a taste of a lot of games last year," Scarpa said. "It was mostly due to injuries. This year, they belong. They’re starting to close the gap between our lines. Next year, they could pop right in and be the second line. We’re losing three forwards. They’re getting ready for a big run. They’re doing a job.
   "The best thing I can say about them is we’ve dominated third periods because other teams’ first two lines are tired. We’re pretty fresh. And one of them usually sets the tone with a big hit. Or usually they come on after a penalty kill or our advantage and maybe they get a goal."
   The third line scored the first goal of the third period in the win over Steinert. It was a big win in solidifying MHS’ place in the state.
   "We prepared just he same way as any big game, as if it was Hillsborough or Ridge," Sean said. "We knew they were a good team and we knew they were undefeated. We wanted to come at them like any other team.
   "Our shooting has picked up a lot this year. In general, we’ve become more of a team. All the kids feel real close with each other. We pick each other up and complement each other in every aspect of the game."
   It’s not hard to be closely connected when you’re brothers. MHS skates with three pairs of brothers — the Hovers, the Yetters and the Coffeys. In all, there are five brother pairs in the program, and the Coffeys also have a sister who plays hockey.
   There has been a Hover brother in the program every year for the past six seasons. For Sean, he’s been in the middle of it by playing two with Mickey, who is a sophomore on the Southern New Hampshire men’s lacrosse team, and two seasons with Kevin before he continues his own lacrosse career at Rutgers University next year.
   "It’s interesting with both of them," Sean said. "Now I’m the veteran and (Kevin) is the rookie. I just told him to go out there and he’s a real strong kid and use his strength and go skate as hard as he can. I tell him everything that Mickey told me."
   There has been some good advice passed down through the family. Of the three Hovers, Kevin figures to be the big benefactor of having two older brothers ahead of him, not just in hockey but also in lacrosse, in which he led the MHS junior varsity team in scoring last spring.
   "It made me a lot tougher," Kevin said. "I have learned from what they’ve done. It helps to have that experience above you."
   In the long run, however, it isn’t just a benefit to him. It is the Cougar ice hockey team that really will reap the biggest rewards of Sean and Kevin Hover together shooting to eclipse the success of brother Mickey’s team in their final season together.