Ice hockey league Cup finals are set for Feb. 16 and 17


WEST ORANGE, NJ – During the winter of 1958-59, hockey fans in the local area weren’t all that interested in the NHL because the New York Rangers were having another disappointing season.

Forward Andy Bathgate was playing at a high level and eventually would win the Hart Trophy, but N.Y. did not make the Stanley Cup playoffs. Toe Blake’s talented Montreal squad would capture its fourth Stanley Cup championship in a row (and add another in 1960).

But on the high school level, ice fans were talking about the newly formed North Jersey Scholastic Hockey League. West Orange, Montclair, Livingston, Morris Hills and Morristown Prep  (now Morristown-Beard) would vie for the Gordon Cup. Livingston would go on to claim the 1959 crown and repeat as champs in 1960.

But in the winter of 1961, an upstart West Orange High team coached by John Hooper would battle Montclair to a 2-2 tie in the championship game at South Mountain Arena. Years later, future town neighbor Seton Hall Prep would become the dominant team in the N.J. Interscholastic League. Under the coaching of John Warchol, the Pirates would win a record nine Gordon Cups, from 1978 through 2006. SHP won two Cups in South Orange, and seven in West Orange.

On the evening of Feb. 16 at 8 p.m., the 60th Gordon Cup championship game will take place at Codey Arena. The 25th McInnis Cup will start off the evening at 6 p.m.

Then on Feb. 17, two more league championship tilts will be held at the same time. First will be the Kelly Cup, and then the McMullen Cup will follow to cap off an exciting weekend of hockey competition.

“I’m honored to have a Cup named for me,” said Msgr. Michael Kelly, the president of Seton Hall Prep. “But the Gordon Cup is the big prize.”

Msgr. Kelly, who was the headmaster at SHP for many years, grew up with a love of sports in South Orange. In the spring of 1950, he had the first hit in the initial contest in the South Orange  little league. And in the fall of 1956, he was the starting QB for Tony Verducci’s pigskin team at Seton Hall Prep (the school moved to West Orange in the summer of 1985).

Msgr. Kelly did a lot to help establish the hockey program at SHP. The other Cup honorees, Kenneth Gordon, Paul McInnis and former Devils owner John McMullen, contributed a great deal to the sport in the Garden State.

McInnis, and Msgr. Kelly, are expected to be at high school hockey’s special weekend on Feb. 16 and 17. McInnis, like Msgr. Kelly, was inducted into the initial class of the N.J. High School Hockey Hall of Fame in the spring of 2010. He hails from Canada.

This year, Don Bosco Prep and Delbarton figure to battle for the Gordon Cup. But SHP could be a darkhorse. Early in the 2017-18 campaign, the Pirates held Don Bosco to a scoreless tie in a game held at the Prudential Center. Goalie John Profaci was spectacular, coming up with 35 saves for coach Mike Atkinson. SHP also had a 1-1 tie against powerful Randolph.

In the McMullen Cup, forward Davey Campbell will be the player in the spotlight for West Orange coach Ed Scafidi. Campbell is one of the top forwards in the state this winter, and reminds people a little bit of former Gloucester Catholic standout Johnny Gaudreau, who is now starring in the NHL with Calgary.

“Campbell is the real deal,” said Steve Ruggiero, the manager at Codey Arena, and current assistant coach for Verona/Glen Ridge, a team which could challenge for the Kelly Cup.

ICE CHIPS – SHP won Gordon Cups in 1978, 1983, 1993, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2006… Current Millburn coach Brandon Doria starred on the ‘98 team which went 25-2, including a state title.