NUTLEY, NJ – With a record of 2-12-1 heading into the last week of January, the 2017-18 high school hockey season has certainly been a rather disappointing one for the first year Nutley/Columbia squad.
But second-year head coach Andy Surowiec and his players have not given up on the campaign by any means. Surowiec, who was a fine player in his days at Clifton, feels the team can make a run at the Kelly Cup in the N.J. Interscholastic League in mid-February.
“We’ve given some pretty good efforts against the top teams in our division,” said Surowiec. “Hey, Millburn has one of the best teams in Essex County this winter, and we recently held them to a 1-1 tie. If we play a solid game for all three periods, we can compete with any team in our division.”
For Nutley/Columbia, a major problem has been on offense. But in recent games, the offense has picked up. And that certainly helps to boost the confidence of sophomore goalie Johnny Matrona and the team’s defensemen.
Matrona is one of several youngsters from Nutley High who have played well this winter. Others in that group include senior forward Ryan O’Mara, senior forward Mark Frade, and sophomore defenseman Joe Melillo, a kid who really came on strong at the end of the 2016-17 season.
O’Mara, who is a rugged performer in football, has been a force on the ice because of his 6-1, 240-pound size. In the team’s first 15 games, he had nine goals and four assists.
“Ryan can set the tone in any game,” praised the coach. “He has a strong shot, and he’s just tough to contain on the ice.”
Frade is particularly valuable because he can also help out as a defenseman. Through 15 games, the senior had six goals and three assists.
Melillo, who showcases tremendous skills, has contributed a pair of goals to go along with 11 assists. He’s always a spark on the offensive end, and he’s a strong defender as well.
Nutley/Columbia, which went 1-2 in the Essex County Holiday Tournament at Codey Arena in West Orange in late December, has also been helped by another sophomore from Nutley, Matt Jaworski. The youngster, who has “great vision on the ice,” has scored four goals and added seven assists.
Among the kids from Columbia on the team, the standouts have been senior defenseman Jack Breagy and junior forward Eli Verdun. Breagy, like Melillo, can also help on offense — he has five goals and two assists.
Surowiec suggests that Scotch Plains-Fanwood and Verona/Glen Ridge will be the favorites for the Kelly Cup, along with Millburn. But none of those teams has really dominated Nutley/Columbia.
“The kids have to work hard and show discipline on the ice,” said the youthful coach. “If they do that for all 45 minutes of play, anything is possible.”
“This is our first year as a co-op program, and I think we’ll continue to improve down the road. We’re not deep, but I like the kind of enthusiasm we’ve shown. Nutley and Columbia both have strong sports traditions, so that will be a driving force for our hockey program.”
ICE CHIPS – The four league championships in the NJIHL include the Gordon Cup, McInnis Cup, Kelly Cup and McMullen Cup. Don Bosco Prep figures to face Delbarton in the 60th edition of the Gordon Cup… Governor Livingston beat Millburn in the 2017 Kelly Cup finals.