season preview, part 2 – NJIHL

November 30, 2005 on 11:02 pm | In analysis | 4 Comments

To complete the season preview, we look at the state’s biggest league, the NJIHL.

Southern Red
This is one of the most competitive divisions in the entire state, as six of the seven teams finished last season ranked in the state’s top 20. Seriously, can we get a Southern Red/Mennen Division challenge in the mold of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge in college basketball? Two games at the Armory on Friday night, three games at Mennen on Saturday, everybody except two Southern Red teams get a game. Or play two games at Wall on Sunday. It’d be a blast.
Anyway, you almost have to install Bishop Eustace (14-7, #13) and Red Bank Catholic (21-6, #11, #1 W/B) as the twin favorites to start the season. Eustace should be very strong defensively, while RBC finally moves up to the right division. Both teams play challenging schedules, facing 2-4 Gordon teams. St. Augustine Prep (11-7-3, #17) dropped to third last year after consecutive first-place seasons in the Red Division. Middletown North (15-8-3, #14) is an up-and-coming program and should have an edge this season on rival Middletown South (15-11-2, #20). Toms River North (17-4-1, #18, #2 W/B) should have added incentive to play for a high seed in the state tournament after missing out last year. Finally, Monsignor Donovan (15-6-1, #4 W/B) should be very competitive in its first year in the Red Division.

Contenders: Bishop Eustace, Red Bank Catholic, St. Augustine Prep, Middletown North, Toms River North
Pretenders: Middletown South, Monsignor Donovan

Southern White
I like the new Southern White and am really interested to see how the competition plays out. Everyone is looking forward to seeing Brick Township (2-20-3) play in a regular division, but the Green Dragons have plenty of (Gordon Conference) experience and should be immediate favorites. After that, I’m not sure what to think. Rumson/Fair Haven (11-13-3, #8 W/B) and Brick Memorial (8-12-2) ought to be competitive, and Old Bridge (20-3-2, #5 W/B) could really make some noise. First-year program Gloucester Catholic is an unknown; they probably should have started a division lower. Comparing Toms River East (6-13-3) and Wall (11-10-3) is impossible at this point, but I’ve got a hunch the Knights will make life difficult for everyone, and TRE has a strong schedule.

Contenders: Brick Township, Rumson/Fair Haven, Brick Memorial, Old Bridge
Pretenders: Wall, Toms River East, Gloucester Catholic

Southern Blue
Before we got to the Southern Blue, whose idea was it to have the overlapping Shore divisions? Keeping the Bricks in the Shore A at the expense of three Red Division teams makes no sense and really tied scheduling hands. There are only five Southern Conference schools that are not Shore schools; maybe we could just forget the Shore championship for the time being?

Moving on, you have to think this division is going to be a blast. Not necessarily great hockey, but a good time. Somebody needs to fill St. Joseph Hammonton (0-11) in on the non-league scheduling rules; they still only have league games scheduled this year, and it’s tough to find a lot of pride when you have never won a single game. Toms River South (6-10-3) and Point Pleasant (6-15) ought to have the edge in this division, but don’t count out Manasquan (5-15-6). Any team named the Big Blue Warriors has to be taken seriously. I fully admit to knowing virtually nothing about these teams, but both Manasquan and PPB lost by three goals to champion Wall in the Southern Blue tournament last year. Meanwhile, relatively experienced Red Bank Regional (10-12-1) should finish ahead of Southern Regional (2-17-2) and first-year program St. Rose (how ’bout them Purple Aces!), and the Bucs might challenge for a higher place.

Contenders: Toms River South, Point Pleasant Boro, Manasquan
Pretenders: Red Bank Regional, Southern Regional, St. Joseph Hammonton, St. Rose.

Central Red
This division can’t quite match the Mennen or Southern Red for top-to-bottom competitiveness, but it’s close. Everybody’s mouths are watering for the three-headed monster of Bridgewater Raritan (19-8-2, #16), Ridge (21-4-1, #15), and St. Joseph Metuchen (10-9-2). But really, the Panthers (my top-ranked public school) should be loaded this year, with the unfortunately named Red Devils (they wear green and white) just behind. The other four teams are a bit more mysterious. Verona (19-6-2, #18 W/B) is on my dark-horse list, while Montclair (11-13-3) has jacked up its schedule. West Essex (8-16) and Cranford (7-15-1) will probably be fighting to avoid the inevitable drop to the White Division and will play at least three times after being paired together to open the Cron Tournament. That’s a pet peeve of mine, division teams being paired together (just ask Vernon and West Milly), but it’s unavoidable at the Cron.

Contenders: Bridgewater-Raritan, Ridge, St. Joseph Metuchen, Verona, Montclair
Pretenders: West Essex, Cranford

Central White
This is another fun one, mostly thanks to Montgomery (8-12-2) and South Brunswick (10-9-2, #6 W/B), who have left the I-195 scene for the I-78 crowd this year. I also expect Summit (12-13, #19 W/B), Watchung Hills (19-4-2), and MKA (2-15-4) to challenge. And Westfield (13-8-5, #20 W/B). Wow, that’s almost everybody. Seriously, I’m looking forward to this division. I really don’t know if Bernards (2-16-2) is going to be able to compete, but the Mountaineers been competitive in the past when nobody thought they could be.

Contenders: South Brunswick, Summit, Westfield, Montgomery, Watchung Hills, MKA
Pretender: Bernards

Central Blue
This should be a wide open division, but demoted Johnson (5-13-2) should be an immediate title contender. Millburn (11-11-3) also plays a tough non-league schedule, while West Orange (6-13-2) and Dayton (13-9-2) are also expected to factor. First-year program Hillsborough is an unknown entity but has a good reputation, while Livingston (9-11-1) and Governor Livingston (1-13-1) just hope to be competitive.

Contenders: Johson, Millburn, Dayton, West Orange
Pretenders: Hillsborough, Livingston, Governor Livingston

Northern Red
This division appears to be a two-horse race between Bayonne (21-2-3, #19) and Clifton (18-5-2). Bayonne was unbeaten in league play last year, and both teams play schedules indicative of a strong team. But up-and-comer Vernon (21-5-1, #11 W/B), state tournament Cinderella Tenafly (14-10-3), and former power St. Joseph Montvale (11-8-3) hope to challenge the top two. Paramus (6-13-2) and Paramus Catholic (4-13-4) are likely to be fighting to avoid relegation.

Contenders: Bayonne, Clifton, St. Joseph Montvale, Vernon
Pretenders: Tenafly, Paramus, Paramus Catholic

Northern White
The state’s only six-team division has plenty of parity this season. Lakeland (8-15-1) drops down to challenge Northern Hills Conference rival West Milford (10-7-4, #15 W/B), which finished second last year. Ridgewood (15-8-4, #16 W/B) has one of the state’s toughest public-school schedules, while River Dell (12-10-2, #17 W/B) turned heads toward the end of last year. Wayne Valley (8-14) and newcomer Nutley (5-15-1) seem unlikely to challenge.

Contenders: West Milford, Ridgewood, Lakeland, River Dell
Pretenders: Nutley, Wayne Valley

Northern Blue
This resurrected division has three first-year programs and four traditional doormats, so it’s anybody’s game. I’m going to stick my neck out and install DePaul Catholic as the favorite, since they had a successful JV program last year. Newton and Sparta should also be respectable first-year teams. Glen Rock (6-12-3) should be the most successful returning program, with Passaic Valley (8-11-2), Hackensack (1-18-1), and East Side (2-14-2) bringing up the rear.

Contenders: DePaul Catholic, Glen Rock, Passaic Valley
Who knows? Newton, Sparta
Pretenders: Hackensack, East Side

Gordon Conference
Now for the big boys. The private-school powers have succeeded in producing an elite division almost off the radar for many of the state’s public schools. I picked all eight teams in my preseason top 10 (another shameless HNIB plug), and I expect to see the top six spots regularly filled with these teams. For the most part, they can only be reasonably compared against each other.
CBA (25-3-2, #1) won the state title in overtime last year and appears to have plugged the holes on its first line, but I wonder if one line will be enough this year. Delbarton (22-2-6, #2) probably has the best top two lines in the state, but the defending Gordon Cup champions will need time to mature their inexperienced defense corps and goaltenders. Seton Hall Prep (13-8-4, #4) probably has the best chance to challenge last year’s dominant duo behind strong returning players at most positions. Don Bosco Prep (15-11-1, #3) was hit hard by transfers but should be strong in goal and have enough offense to get by. Pope John (8-13-3, #7) really came on toward the end of last year but will need to stay out of the penalty box to be successful. St. Peter’s Prep (11-8-6, #5) lost the corps of its team from the last two years but might have the depth to remain competitive. In the league’s only coaching change, Bergen Catholic (12-10-3, #6) brought back head coach Dan May, who coached the Crusaders to state titles in 2001 and 2003, but one year might be quick for a turnaround. St. John Vianney (7-13-3) finished out of the top 20 last year and will probably need to take advantage of its Shore Conference games.

Contenders: CBA, Delbarton, Seton Hall Prep, Don Bosco Prep
Pretenders: Pope John, St. Peter’s Prep, Bergen Catholic, St. John Vianney

First-year program High Point and Gordon dropout Hudson Catholic (2-21-2) join the four preps as independent teams this year.

And that’s it. Having talked/written more about this season before it started than any other, I’m ready to see some real action that counts in the standings. Let the games begin.


  1. I can give you a little insight into Gloucester Catholic, as my son has been with the program since its inception 2 years ago.

    In year 1 they played an independent schedule, with the roster composed primarily of freshman. Last season, they played in the Wall JV league and defeated a deep-rostered St. Augustine team for the league championship. This season they will have very dependable 1st and 2nd lines on both offense and defense. Goaltending is a major question mark. The original freshman class are all juniors now, and all are highly experienced club hockey players, with representatives of the Hollydell Hurricane midget A, Vineland midget AA, and my own son, a Rocket’s junior starter making for a highly cohesive unit. These guys have been battling Brick players since they were 6 years old…look for some very spirited contests there!

    Comment by Mark Lynch — 1 December 2005 #

  2. Jon – I know you saw the Delby/B-R game. Any thoughts, and does this change your opinion on B-R as your pre-season public fave?

    Comment by L. Powers — 1 December 2005 #

  3. You’re underrating TRE, they tied Brick 2-2 last night, and tied Midd. North in a varsity heavy scrimmage.

    Comment by MJ — 2 December 2005 #

  4. Who are the newcomer freshmen on CBA’s 05-06 team? Seems like they’re some hot new second liners who can plug some holes…

    Comment by Greg McElroy — 3 December 2005 #

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