season preview, part 1 – regional leagues

November 29, 2005 on 11:04 pm | In analysis | No Comments

If there are ridiculously illogical posts on the NJO forum, people emailing me about hockey schedules, warm weather, and teams pulling out of the Gordon Conference, it must be summer, right? Okay, not so much.


With word coming down today (via the highschoolsports.net schedules) that Hudson Catholic will be allowed to play an independent schedule, we are officially ready for the 2005-06 season to begin. And while rankings will not begin (as always) until the second Saturday in December, with white/blue rankings arriving even later, it is about time to figure out which teams are legit. So here we go, with the first half of my season preview. I have talked to less than half of the state’s coaches, so cut me some slack come February when one of my pretenders is still unbeaten.

Today, the regional leagues. So we start at the bottom of my standings page with the North Bergen Interscholastic Athletic League. And, before you ask, I know the teams are divided into two divisions. But since they play identical schedules (two games against each league opponent, regardless of division), it is fair game to use a single table.

NBIAL
The league boasts one of the state’s buzz-worthy public schools, Indian Hills (16-3-7, #12 W/B). If you have forgotten one of my favorite stories from last year, the Braves were 11-0-7 (NHL-style shootouts, anyone?) in February last year before head coach Phil Murphy added Northern Red teams St. Joseph Montvale and Clifton to his schedule, and the Braves played respectably but lost both contests. Point made, Murphy has the No. 1 non-league schedule of any public school this year (see the Dec. 1 issue of Hockey Night in Boston for a closer look) and plenty of talent returning to the defending NBIAL Division II champions.
Although Indian Hills has its sights set on the statewide public rankings, there are several NBIAL teams capable of giving the Braves a run for their money. Fair Lawn (18-6-4, #13 W/B) and Ramsey (18-4-4, #14 W/B) each finished just one point behind Indian Hills in the standings last year, and several coaches tabbed Ramapo (10-11-3) to finish in the top half. After that, it seems a virtual pick’em for the remaining six teams. Wayne Hills (9-10-4) won two overtime games to take the Division I playoff title last year.

Contenders: Indian Hills, Fair Lawn, Ramsey, Ramapo
Pretenders: Northern Highlands, Mahwah, Old Tappan, Wayne Hills, Pascack Valley, Demarest

MCSSIHL Mennen
This ought to be the league’s top non-Gordon division once again, although the Southern Red could provide stiff competition. Defending public state champion Morris Knolls (24-3-3, #8) returns four top players and should be the favorite to repeat as Mennen Cup champions, but nothing comes easily in this division. Morristown-Beard (19-5-3, #9) was virtually even with Knolls last year, but its personnel is unproven, and the Crimson will not host any games at Twin Oaks this season. Randolph (20-7-1, #10) will be the deep, fast team it always is, but the Rams still have to answer the scoring question. Chatham (20-7, #12) might have the edge on Randolph, by returning four of its top players. Finally, Morris Hills (13-11-1, #9 W/B) moves up to the Mennen Division for the first time ever but loses only one contributor from last year’s team. All five teams might rely on their respective top lines for offense … the division could come down to one top line (Knolls) against a deeper, more defensive team (Chatham, Randolph).

Contenders: Morris Knolls, Morristown-Beard, Randolph, Chatham, Morris Hills
Pretenders: I know it’s a cop-out, but they’re all legit

MCSSIHL Halvorsen
This division has changed personalities in the last few years, with the emergence of a stronger Mennen Division. Mendham (12-13) drops from the Mennen Division and should challenge Mountain Lakes (11-11-4, #10 W/B) for the division title. My dark horse is West Morris (7-13-1), which has been steadily adjusting its level of play to the upper divisions. Pingry (9-12-3) has only missed the Mennen Cup playoffs once since 1998, but the Big Blue is 1-6 in tournament play in those years. I know nothing about Jefferson (5-10-6) at this point, but reputation insists they will be trying to avoid the drop to the Haas Division.

Contenders: Mendham, Mountain Lakes, West Morris
Pretenders: Pingry, Jefferson

MCSSIHL Haas/Charette
I’m breaking my own rule here by lumping the two divisions together when they play unbalanced schedules, but it seems a disservice to handicap the Haas ahead of the Charette when the latter was clearly a stronger division last year.

In the Haas, Roxbury (14-9-1) managed an unbeaten league season last year but was awful out of league and was upset by the Haas Cup tournament’s No. 8 seed. The Gaels did give Ridge quite a scare in the state tournament. Expect promoted Pequannock (17-5-4) to be Roxbury’s biggest competition. Defending Haas Cup champion Park Regional (13-10-2) won the title as the lowest seed last year but remains in the Charette Division. Why? Morris County has switched multiple teams plenty of times before. Montville (7-15-1) and Madison (8-11-2) could also have strong seasons.

Contenders: Roxbury, Pequannock, Park Regional, Montville, Madison
Pretenders: Kinnelon, Morristown, Parsippany Hills, Parsippany, Mt. Olive

CVC Colonial
This is one of the state’s most interesting divisions, with both Princeton (19-5-1, #3 W/B) and Steinert (15-8-2, #7 W/B) moving up to take on established programs Notre Dame (23-3) and Hopewell Valley (17-10). The Little Tigers (great individualism, by the way; it would have been much easier to just copy Princeton University’s nickname and colors, but PHS wears blue) upset imperial Notre Dame in overtime in the MCT final last year. Both upstart publics have adventurous schedules. But props to the veterans as well, as Notre Dame and Hopewell play some good competition. I would like to see Notre Dame against some Gordon Conference opposition now that the big guns have room on their schedules.

Contenders: Notre Dame, Princeton, Steinert, Hopewell Valley
Pretenders: again, a cop-out. This is the beauty of multi-division conferences.

CVC Valley
I know next to nothing about the teams in this division as well. WWPS (7-13-2) ought to be the best of the bunch, and I’d rank Hightstown (10-9-2) just behind. I think WWPN (5-13) could really struggle, while Ewing (8-13-2) might not be able to cope with the tougher schedule.

Contenders: WWPS, Hightstown
Pretenders: Ewing, WWPN

CVC Patriot
Lawrence (3-14-1) takes the drop for the first time. This three-team division is one reason I wish the CVC was split 6/5 instead of 4/4/3. Nottingham (7-12-1) ought to be competitive, but it’s hard to see Hamilton (1-23) being a factor. I like the Hornets’ non-league schedule though; much more inventive than Ewing, Lawrence, or Nottingham.

Contenders: Nottingham, Lawrence
Pretender: Hamilton

Check back tomorrow for the NJIHL preview.

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