NUTLEY/MAPLEWOOD, NJ — During the 2018-19 scholastic hockey season, one of the biggest stories was that a co-op team representing Morris Knolls/Morris Hills won a state championship. Morris Hills has been involved in league play since the 1958-59 season, but until last winter had never earned a championship.
In the local area, last winter was also a very special one for a co-op squad. Nutley/Columbia captured the McMullen Cup in the challenging N.J. Interscholastic League, the toughest circuit in the Garden State. In the final, head coach Andy Surowiec’s team bested Frisch, 4-2. Also in the league, Don Bosco won the Gordon Cup, Westfield claimed the McInnis Cup and Millburn, coached by former Seton Hall Prep star Brandon Doria, won the Kelly Cup, which is named for SHP President, Msgr. Michael Kelly.
“We’ll be moving to the Kelly Division this season,” said Surowiec, “so the competition will be stronger. But I still think we can challenge for a league title. We have a solid team, and I think the kids are confident.”
Columbia will have seven players on the roster and the leaders should be two junior defensemen, Zach Fagin and James Gonon.
Fagin, who played at forward last winter, will particularly be an exciting player to watch on the ice. The youngster handles the puck quite well, and will frustrate opponents with his speed.
Gonon, who is much bigger than he was a year ago, is one of the most improved players on the team. He’ll help veteran goalie John Matrona, a senior from Nutley.
“John moves very well in the net,” Surowiec said. “He’s strong on rebounds and always displays a great work ethic.”
Along with Fagin and Gonon on defense, the squad will also spotlight senior Leo Carrillo, junior Cooper Fojas and sophomore Julian Poole. All of those players attend Nutley High School.
“I think Leo will be a real presence on the ice,” remarked Surowiec, who was a fine player at Clifton.
Though good defense will be the key this season, Nutley/Columbia also can produce on offense. The talented first line features Joe Melillo, Rocco Albanese and Justin Devlin, all of whom are from Nutley. Melillo, a senior center, should be the leader for the squad.
“I think our second and third lines will also be effective,” said the youthful head coach.
Columbia will also be represented on the co-op squad by freshmen forwards Trey Gigante, Caleb Diegnan and Will Pechman. Senior forward Alex David and senior defender Annie Pasternak are also expected to contribute.
Pasternak, a talented field hockey performer, will be an interesting player to watch.
“She just has to learn our system of play,” said the coach. “All of the guys on our team certainly respect her. We’ve had some talented girls on our team in prior years.”
On the state scene, the defending champs are Don Bosco Prep, Ridge, Summit and Morris Knolls/Morris Hills. A year ago, Don Bosco put together an amazing 27-1 campaign, beating powerful Delbarton four times.
In late February and early March, the 45th NJSIAA Tournament will take place. Seton Hall Prep, coming off a fine 14-9-3 season, might be able to challenge such strong squads as Don Bosco Prep, Delbarton and Christian Brothers Academy for the Non-Public title.
In the Morris County Scholastic League, defending champ Madison Boro and Randolph will be the teams to watch.
Nov. 30, Governor Livingston, at Codey Arena, West Orange, 5:45 p.m.
Dec. 4, Verona/Glen Ridge, at Codey Arena, 6:15 p.m.
Dec. 6, Bayonne, at Rich Korpi Ice Rink, Bayonne, 7;15 p.m.
Dec. 9, Millburn, at Codey Arena, 6:15 p.m.
Dec. 13, Scotch Plains-Fanwood, at Codey Arena, 8:45 p.m.
Dec. 18, Hanover Park, at Codey Arena, 6:15 p.m.
Jan. 4, Oratory Prep, at Codey Arena, 5:45 p.m.
Jan. 6, Cranford, at Warinanco Ice Skating Center, Roselle, 6:35 p.m.
Jan. 11, Millburn, at Codey Arena, 3:45 p.m.
Jan. 12, Verona/Glen Ridge, at Codey Arena, 5 p.m.
Jan. 18, Cranford, at Codey Arena, 5:45 p.m.
Jan. 24, Gill St. Bernard’s, at Codey Arena, 6:45 p.m.
Jan. 27, Governor Livingston, at Warinanco Ice Skating Center, 8:35 p.m.
Feb. 1, Montville, at Codey Arena, 3:45 p.m.
Feb. 4, Scotch Plains-Fanwood, at Warinanco Ice Skating Center, 8:35 p.m.
Feb. 9, Oratory Prep, at Union, 8:20 p.m.