Columbia HS hockey players get ready to skate with Nutley team this winter

MAPLEWOOD, NJ – At Columbia High School, fans always look forward to the cold winter months, because the Cougars have a winning tradition in both boys’ and girls’ basketball.

This season, CHS sports fans will also be interested in another big winter activity – hockey. For the first time in school history, CHS will be involved in league competition. Columbia will be part of a co-op program with Nutley.

“Co-op programs are becoming more and more popular in our state,” said Steve Ruggiero, the manager of Codey Arena in West Orange, where Nutley/Columbia will play most of its games in 2017-18.

Ruggiero, interestingly enough, is the former head coach at Verona/Glen Ridge, and still serves as an assistant coach with the team.

In New Jersey, the first successful co-op program was the one involving Hanover Park and Whippany Park in the Morris County Scholastic Hockey League. The co-op team, known as Park Regional, has won several titles in the MCSHL, led by Tom Levis, who starred on Whippany Park’s 1985 club which won the Mennen Cup under the direction of Mark Jannifer.

This winter, Nutley/Columbia will be involved in the Essex Holiday Tournament at Codey, which will run Dec. 26-29. Verona/Glen Ridge will be involved in that event, along with West Orange High, which will be competing in league play for the 60th season.

In the “B” bracket of the holiday event, Nutley/Columbia will open against Bernards, while Verona/Glen Ridge will face off against Old Tappan. In the “A” bracket, West Orange will open against Pequannock. The strongest team in the 14-team tourney will most likely be Watchung Hills, which will skate in the “B” bracket.

Nutley/Columbia will open the season on Dec. 1 at 6:45 p.m. at Codey Arena against a good club from Millburn. On Dec. 17 at Codey, the foe will be Verona/Glen Ridge.

In January, big games for Nutley/Columbia will come against Millburn on Jan. 12 at Codey Arena, and Jan. 27 against Verona/Glen Ridge at Codey. Two other challenging games this winter at Codey, will come against West Essex on Dec. 11 and Jan. 22. West Essex has won two state titles, one state Group title and two Gordon Cups.

Delbarton, which has the best program in state history, is the defending Gordon Cup champ in the N.J. Interscholastic Hockey League. Other NJIHL champs in 2017 include Summit in the McInnis Cup, Governor Livingston in the Kelly Cup and Bayonne in the McMullen Cup. Nutley/Columbia will meet Bayonne on the road on Dec. 20 and host the Hudson County school on Jan. 6.

ICE CHIPS – In the 2017 Kelly Cup final, Millburn fell to Governor Livingston, 2-0. Bayonne topped Oratory, 8-2, in the McMullen Cup final… Nutley/Columbia will be vying for the Kelly Cup this winter… The NHL will mark its 100th anniversary on Dec. 19, and the big game in the state that day will be Seton Hall Prep against archrival Delbarton on the road.

Nutley/Columbia schedule

(Games at Codey Arena, West Orange, unless otherwise noted)

Dec. 1, Millburn, 6:45 p.m.

Dec. 2, Bernards, 7:45 p.m.

Dec. 8, Cranford, 8:45 p.m.

Dec. 11, West Essex, 4:15 p.m.

Dec. 12, Scotch Plains-Fanwood, at Warinanco Rink, 8:30 p.m.

Dec. 17, Verona/Glen Ridge, 5 p.m.

Dec. 20, Bayonne, at Korpi Rink, Bayonne, 3:15 p.m.

Dec. 22, Johnson, 6 p.m.

Dec. 26-29, Essex Holiday Tournament

Jan. 3, Johnson, at Warinanco Rink, 6:45 p.m.

Jan. 6, Bayonne, 7:45 p.m.

Jan. 8, Cranford, at Warinanco Rink, 6:30 p.m.

Jan. 12, Millburn, 6:45 p.m.

Jan. 13, Scotch Plains-Fanwood, 5:45 p.m.

Jan. 22, West Essex, 6:15 p.m.

Jan. 26, Ramapo, at Ice Vault

Jan. 27, Verona/Glen Ridge, 5:45 p.m.