Nutley/Columbia hockey team competitive this season

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Photo of Columbia players: Back row, from left: Jack Breagy, Zach Fagin, Dexter Carlin, James Gonon, Alex David and Eli Verdun. In front is goalie Oliver Tauscher.

MAPLEWOOD, NJ – In high school hockey, a big story in recent years has been the play of co-op teams. Heck, this winter, a co-op team representing Woodbridge Township made it to the finals of the Public Schools A Division championship. Amazingly, the first-year program racked up 21 wins.

On the local scene, Nutley/Columbia played together for the first time, and the results were far different. The team played competitive hockey for the most part, but only went 4-16-1.

“It would have been nice to have some more victories,” said coach Andy Surowiec, “but I was pleased that we played better as the year progressed. In the Kelly Cup playoffs we came close to beating a strong team from Scotch Plains, but they managed to pull out a 4-3 overtime win.”

In the Kelly Cup championship game in the N.J. Interscholastic League, Millburn, coached by former Seton Hall Prep star Brandon Doria, defeated Cranford, 6-3.

“We almost beat Millburn at the start of the season,” remarked Surowiec, who enjoyed a fine career at Clifton High. “We had them 5-2, but they came back with five straight goals.

“At times this season we had some problems on defense, but we did much better as the kids gained more experience. I expect us to have a much better season in 2018-19. I think we’ll be competing in the McMullen Division of the NJIHL, so that will be a little easier than competing in the Kelly Division.”

Columbia, vying in league play for the first time, certainly added some depth to the squad.

From Columbia, a school with a pretty good tradition in sports like Nutley, the standouts for Surowiec were senior forward Jack Breagy and junior forward Eli Verdun. Breagy, who also helped out as a defenseman, had nine goals and two assists. Verdun chipped in with five goals and seven assists.

“Jack did whatever it took to help us keep in contention,” said Surowiec. “You love to see that kind of quality in a player, particularly in such a tough game as hockey.”

From Nutley, the standouts included senior forwards Ryan O’Mara and Mark Frade, sophomore defenseman Joe Melillo and sophomore goalie John Matrona.

O’Mara, who has football size, scored 10 goals and added 11 assists, while Frade collected seven goals and five assists.

Melillo, who came on strong at the end of the 2016-17 campaign, was a physical player on the ice. He also helped on offense with four goals and 11 assists.

Matrona improved with each outing, and figures to be a real key for the squad next winter.

“All the guys really came together as a team,” said Surowiec. “We’ll do some off-ice training this summer, and I’m looking forward to much better results next season. We don’t have a big roster, but the kids enjoy the game and they want to do well.”

ICE CHIPS – Along with Millburn, the Cup champs in 2018 in the NJIHL were Delbarton, Summit and Frisch. Delbarton and Summit also won state titles… Three schools made up the roster for Woodbridge Township. They also made their league finals.