Cougars capture Van Cott Cup

MHS ice hockey rolls into states

By: Justin Feil
   Tom Coffey grew up playing hockey in Michigan.
   After 14 years in Michigan, his family moved to New Jersey and they made sure to find a place where he could continue to play. The Coffeys settled in Montgomery.
   "We moved here the week before school started," Coffey said. "Coming in, when we were looking at school districts, a big thing was if they have a hockey team. We found a great school in Montgomery and they had a hockey team as well. It’s the best of both worlds."
   It’s hard to imagine it working out any better for Tom Coffey or his family. He is the oldest of three Coffey children in the Montgomery High program. His sister, Elizabeth who is a freshman, played with the junior varsity this season. His brother Kevin, a sophomore, skates on the first line with Jim and Mike Yetter. And Tom Coffey is the senior leader on a line that includes all sophomores.
   Coffey had an assist on the goal by Mike Violette that began the Cougars’ 4-1 win over Montclair-Kimberley to capture the Van Cott Cup on Saturday. The Van Cott Cup was awarded to the White Division tournament champion.
   "Tom is a quieter kid who leads through hard work," said MHS head coach Rob Scarpa after his team improved to 20-2. "He has a great work ethic. He’s always moving his feet. He does a lot off the ice too. When he’s going, he gets things moving along. He’s another really solid player we have. He doesn’t get a lot of recognition but he does a lot of work.
   "He’s part of a checking line. It’s a new role since last week. He’s not complaining. He’s going out and doing his job. It’s nice to have him there. He gives senior leadership to the sophomores who haven’t been there."
   None of the sophomores have been where Coffey and the Cougars were two years ago when they advanced all the way to the public school tournament’s final eight. Coffey would like to go beyond that in his senior season, and MHS opens the state tournament when the No. 5 seed hosts No. 28 Paramus, a 6-4 winner over No. 37 West Windsor-Plainsboro South on Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Ice Land.
   "I didn’t play much at all my freshman and sophomore year," Coffey said. "I’m glad to get another shot because we didn’t make it last year. Being there, and seeing the type of commitment the seniors had two years ago, that’s going to affect how I play. I want to go out and want it even more than they did. If we go out and play as best we can and don’t take anyone lately, we can go deep in tournament.
   "I think the team, we really want to win it. Just making it into Continental Arena would be a great achievement. We all want to win, the games we have to and the games we’re not supposed to. I’m hoping to help us along in the state run. We want to win it. We want to go all the way this year."
   Coffey is looking to do whatever it takes to help the Cougars reach their goals. He has fit right in his new role on the checking line. There may not be as much glory in it, but it’s one way the assistant captain can help MHS.
   "I really see myself as more of a checking player," Coffey said. "It’s not a big change. I’m willing to do whatever it takes for the betterment of the team. If that means going out and stopping teams form scoring, that’s fine. I don’t have any complaints. We’re all friends. I want to do whatever it takes. I want to see us succeed in my senior year. We want to make the most of it."
   Coffey showed that he’s still capable of putting up a key point here or there when he contributed an assist in the Van Cott Cup final. Montclair-Kimberley came back to tie the game on a second-period penalty shot — the only shot that eluded Ian Healey who had 23 saves — but less than four minutes later, Kevin Coffey had an assist along with Mike Yetter for Jim Yetter. Mike Yetter added two third-period goals, including the empty-netter to ice the game.
   "It’s a big confidence booster for me," Tom Coffey said of his own assist. "Those points are going to come very often for me. I brought the puck in deep. I passed it back to Tim McMinn. He put it in and it iipped off Mike Violette’s shoulder into the net. We work on a lot of tips. It was a great way to start out the game."
   Coffey was just as thrilled to see his brother’s contributions in a big game. Kevin has been a steady contributor all season as well, and his older brother thinks he’ll continue to help the team in the state tournament.
   "Kevin is playing first line with the Yetters," Tom Coffey said. "He definitely wants to win it. He works hard. He’s stepped it up in the last couple weeks. Coach gave him a chance to step up and he did. Everybody has stepped up. It’s great to see everyone stepping up to achieve the goal we share."
   The Cougars look at their Van Cott Cup win as the perfect way to go into the state tournament. MHS had played just once since losing their second game of the season, to Hopewell Valley.
   "We wanted to get rolling before states got started," Scarpa said. "We won the last two games and want to keep the streak going. We’re trying to get the kids back and motivated. Essentially, we had a week and a half off."
   MHS doesn’t want any time off until after the state championship game. They begin Thursday against an unfamiliar opponent, and because they both played around the same time Saturday, the Cougars didn’t have a chance to see Paramus in action.
   "Paramus got an at-large bid (as a sub-.500 record team) and they won their first round," Scarpa said. "They were able to get in and beat a team that qualified the traditional way. So they have to be good.
   "The thing they have learned is how to win games. They have stepped up against the bigger opponents. It can be a detriment, if they play to the other team’s level. They need to treat every team like it’s a big team, like Bridgewater, Hillsborough or Ridge. They can’t play down. I hope they can carry that through."
   The Cougars have already hit some of their goals. They won the Somerset County Tournament. They won the White Division and the Van Cott Cup. They won 20 games. It’s a lot, but it’s not satisfying enough.
   "If we don’t win a couple games, it won’t mean anything," Scarpa said. "They want to get a couple more wins. A lot of them don’t want to stop this season. They want to keep it going. It’s been great."
   It’s been all that Coffey was hoping for when he continued his hockey career at Montgomery High. And it could get better if the Cougars can advance just a little farther than their seeding. So far, they’re 2-for-2 in tournaments with one more to play.
   "Winning the tournaments is definitely a big confidence booster," Coffey said. "We’re trying to build on that and not look back at the wins and losses we’ve had. It doesn’t matter who’s on the schedule. The team feels strongly if we play our ‘A’ game, we can beat any team in the state.
   "I hope we get a chance to prove that. I hope we get to play Morris Knolls or Randolph. It’d be great if we can go out there and give them a good game."