Nutley–Columbia–Bloomfield hockey team returns experienced group; seeks successful season

Nutley–Columbia–Bloomfield players skate during action last season.

ESSEX COUNTY, NJ  — The Nutley–Columbia–Bloomfield high school ice hockey team returns an experienced group looking to have a successful season.

The team, hosted by Nutley, will open the season on Nov. 27 against Millburn at Richard J. Codey Arena in West Orange at 3:45 p.m.

This will be Bloomfield’s second season with the program.

Dave Macri, who is in his second year as the head coach, is excited about this year’s team.

“We’ve got a fair amount of players back,” Macri said. “We’re senior heavy. We’ve got nine seniors. The maturity level is there. They all know how to play hockey; they all know how to play the game. We’re going to lean on a bunch of them to not only perform, but to lead.

“We’ve got some freshmen that will definitely fill the holes that were left by graduating seniors; we graduated four seniors, and all of those guys were impact players. We’ve got some sophomores and juniors who will be stepping into those roles nicely. We look to be in pretty good shape.”

Bloomfield last season had one player on the team, Gavin Waldron, who is back this year as a sophomore defenseman. This year’s team has added four more Bloomfield players. They are freshman center Alex Benkert, freshman goalie Joseph Weedo, freshman defenseman Jack Lardner and sophomore defenseman Eric Antonsson.

Benkert has a bright future. “He’s definitely going to be one to watch,” Macri said about Benkert. “He’s a heck of a player.”

The team will be led by several experienced Nutley players.

Senior forward Rocco Albanese, a captain, is an excellent two-way player who has good size and speed and will be a big producer for the team, Macri said.

Senior center CJ Hannon is another captain and two-way player who will “take charge no matter what the situation,” Macri said.

Senior TJ Wassman also is expected to be a strong offensive contributor. “He’s an offensive weapon,” Macri said. “He can put up the points if given the opportunity.”

On defense, senior Paul Poplawski brings a physical presence, while senior captain Julian Poole has good size and defends well.

Senior alternate captain and forward Frank Matrona also “brings the size we need to win corner battles and battles in front of the net.”

Junior goalkeeper Victoria Rutnik is impressive in net. “She is a quality goalkeeper in anybody’s game,” Macri said.

Among the key Columbia High School players are juniors Trey Gigante and Caleb Diegnan; sophomore goalie George Dietrich; and sophomore Molly Mendoza.

Gigante has developed nicely.

“He got a lot better last year, and judging by this year, he’s definitely going to be an impact player for us,” Macri said. “That kid just keeps getting better and better every year.”

The team’s main goal this season is to show it can compete in the Kelly Division. “We’re in the Kelly Division, and there’s good competition in the Kelly Division,” Macri said. “Our main goal is to compete in that division. It’s not necessarily about the wins and losses; we want to be in every game that we play. We want to be there in the end and keep in close and show that we belong in that division.”

The following are upcoming games:

  • Nov. 27: vs. Millburn at Codey Arena in West Orange, 3:45 p.m.
  • Dec. 3: vs. Cranford at Codey Arena, 6:45 p.m.
  • Dec. 4: vs. Newton at Skylands Ice World in Stockholm, 6 p.m.
  • Dec. 6: vs. Verona/Glen Ridge at Codey Arena, 6 p.m.
  • Dec.11: vs. Oratory Prep at Codey Arena, 5:45 p.m.
  • Dec. 13: vs. Cranford at Warinanco Rink in Roselle, 6:35 p.m.
  • Dec. 15: vs. Montclair Kimberley Academy at Clary Anderson Arena in Montclair, 4:15 p.m.
  • Dec. 17: vs. Lakeland at Ice Vault Arena in Wayne, 5 p.m.
  • Dec. 18: vs. Colonia at Codey Arena, 3:45 p.m.
  • Dec. 22: vs. Watchung Hills at Codey Arena, 6:15 p.m.
  • Dec. 23: opponent to be announced, at Codey Arena.
  • Dec. 26: vs. Scotch Plains/Fanwood at Codey Arena, 2 p.m.
  • Dec. 27: vs. West Orange at Codey Arena, 4 p.m.
  • Jan. 2: vs. Frisch at MacKay Ice Arena in Englewood, 5:15 p.m.
  • Jan. 5: vs. Montclair Kimberley Academy at Codey Arena, 8 p.m.
  • Jan. 8: vs. Millburn at Codey Arena, 3:45 p.m.
  • Jan. 9: vs. Demarest at Codey Arena, 5 p.m.
  • Jan. 18: vs. Tenafly at MacKay Ice Arena, 8 p.m.
  • Jan. 24: vs. Verona/Glen Ridge at Codey Arena, 6 p.m.
  • Jan. 29: vs. Pascack Valley at Codey Arena, 5:45 p.m.
  • Jan. 30: vs. West Essex at Codey Arena, 5 p.m.
  • Feb. 5: vs. Oratory Prep at Codey Arena, 3:45 p.m.
  • Feb. 6: vs. Frisch at Codey Arena, 5 p.m.