For senior captains Cary Collucci, Ryan Martinez, Mike Miller and goalie Ondrej Smalec, their love for the game of hockey started at a young age, which has helped translate to the current success of the Montclair State University ice hockey team.
“My dad was basically the main reason,” Collucci said. “Growing up in this area, he never got a chance to play, but he had a huge love for the game from his family, and he put me on skates when I was really young. And when he got me a pair, he got himself one and we went in together. And by the time I was six years old, I had a stick in my hand, and was doing hockey development right over at the [Montclair State Ice Arena].”
Despite meeting up at Montclair High School, the bond between these four guys started at the beginning of their college journey. And now in their final year being a part of the Red Hawks and playing at the Ice Arena, they are currently putting together one of their best seasons in recent memory.
The squad is at a 3-1-1 record and recently had two huge wins against Marist College and their second home game against Central Connecticut State University ended up in a monstrous 8-3 victory. They are now 2-0 in the league, which has not been done since before the four captains even stepped foot at Montclair State as students.
And for the past four years, every day during the season has started pretty early for the whole team. Practices usually start at the crack of dawn, usually around six in the morning. For Smalec, who in their last game made 29 saves off 32 shots, he has a routine that has been set in stone for good reason.
“I’m a very ritualistic person, and if you ever meet another goalie that is in a good sequence of games in their career, they always remember what they did in that one day and why they must have had a good game because of that,” Smalec said. “A couple of years ago I started waking up at five in the morning because I had trouble sleeping sometimes, and then I had a really good game. And I was like ‘You know what? Let me keep doing this.'”
And ever since the senior goalie started waking up before the sun creeps up into the sky, he has solidified himself alongside the other three players as someone to look up to, and he mentioned that the only person he has to impress, other than his team, is himself. But the relationship, not only between these four leaders but a lot of the members of the team, has grown considerably this season.
Senior forward Miller dedicates part of that chemistry to the hard work put in by head coach Rob Martinez.
“Being a coach of a team can be hard and stressful,” Miller said. “But [Rob Martinez] does a good job of preparing us for what’s going to happen outside of college. And it’s not all about hockey. It’s about letting us grow as people and giving us life lessons and taking it day by day.”
With specifically the offensive game plan that Rob Martinez puts into play every game, the team definitely has to take everything gradually. The team is not exactly scoring five-plus goals every game, but rather relies on an aggressive defense and elite play from Smalec at goal.
Senior forward Ryan Martinez focuses on why that play has made them a great team this season.
“The atmosphere, in general, has shifted,” Ryan Martinez said. “The past few games we have been within one or two goals and the games we did lose, we lost in overtime to Rider [University] and [Eastern Connecticut State University], both of those were close games. We identify as a more defensive team, and when we score goals, we score goals.”
So far, the Red Hawks have definitely been scoring goals, as they have 18 goals throughout six games so far, an average of three a game. For a team that focuses on their defense more than their offense, that is pretty solid.
The team’s next game is on Friday against Sacred Heart University at the Ice Arena, so if you want to bundle up at the rink and maybe have some chicken noodle soup to keep warm and cheer on this team on the rise to something great, the support is always appreciated.