Opening Day, 10 years later

December 1, 2006 on 10:22 am | In analysis | 2 Comments

Well, if it is 34 degrees in Houston, it must be hockey season! I’m psyched for the start of the season tonight, even though I likely will not see a game until after Christmas (I did squeeze in one scrimmage during the Thanksgiving holiday). And today marks 10 years since I first decided to cover high school ice hockey, way back when Pope John won its first ever game over a very different Morris Knolls team. As Mike Morreale pointed out in his blog, the number of schools fielding hockey teams has nearly doubled since then. Likewise, my dedication to and coverage of N.J. hockey has increased, and this is always a fun time. While you’re checking out previews and blogs, don’t forget to check out Dan Rosen and the guys at the Varsity Aces blog, including Dan’s Bergen County preview. And in my neck of the woods, Dan Breeman should have a preview coming out soon in Morris County’s Daily Record, but football coverage appears to be dominating the section today. Down the shore, Bob Badders previewed CBA’s season in the Asbury Park Press

With those guys, who are actually on the scene and usually in closer contact with the coaches than I am, handling previews, I do not plan to go very in depth with mine. I have other things on my plate, such as writing high-school football columns, trying to find a broadcasting job, and making plans for Rice’s first bowl game in 45 years.

But I can’t let Opening Day go without a little something, so let’s touch on a few things. First, my HNIB Top 10, which should be available in local rinks at the moment. Remember, preseason rankings are virtually pointless AND I had to submit this before practices even started.

HNIB Preseason Top 10 (11/13/06)
1. Delbarton
2. CBA
3. St. Peter’s Prep
4. Seton Hall Prep
5. Pope John
6. Bergen Catholic
7. Don Bosco Prep
8. Montgomery
9. Ridge
10. Bishop Eustace

And remember, please email me with scores the night of the game, it is a huge help and time-saver for me to have reliable scores coming in so I’m not scouring the newspapers the next morning. You know the drill, jty [at] njhockey.org.

Now don’t have a cow, I’m just throwing those names out there, and it might be a completely different list in two weeks. But you have to think the top 3-5 teams are pretty solid. Delbarton is loaded and should lead the pack all year, as long as the Green Wave can find¬†forwards to replace Chris Volonnino (New Jersey Hitmen) and Erik Olson (family move) around the net. Matt Schillings, Charles Nerbak, Zach Williams, and Mike Smigelski all return, with Alex Velischek probably splitting time between defense and forward once again. And, just to scare you, Bruce Shatel took five freshmen on his varsity roster. Yikes.CBA has legit goaltending and blue-line play but might be a Randolph-esque team and struggle to score at times. We all know Seton Hall Prep lost a lot but will still be very good. St. Peter’s Prep returns 15 players and should pose a stiff challenge to the top three. Pope John seems to be finding its niche in the Gordon Conference and has experience back on defense.

Now comes the part where everybody thinks I don’t know what I’m talking about. I picked Bergen Catholic sixth because Dan May has now had a full year under his belt, and the Crusaders were one of last year’s most improved teams. Don Bosco Prep has had plenty of off-season problems, losing seven underclassmen and changing coaches. But you have to respect the Gordon Conference. Montgomery and Ridge are the class of the public schools, although Randolph and Morris Knolls are not too far behind. Bishop Eustace leads a strong Southern Red pack, although perennial unknown St. Augustine Prep is obviously in the mix as well.

New Boys
Welcome to the club, Dumont, Scotch Plains-Fanwood, Jackson Memorial, Robbinsville, Paul VI, and Hunterdon Central. And Monroe Township, sort of. It’s always good to see new teams on the way, and it will be interesting to see how these teams do. Hunterdon Central and Paul VI are expected to be strong, as each was placed in the White Division.

Conference by Conference
We touched on the Gordon Conference already, so let’s start with the North. The Red Division looks wide-open and perhaps a bit weak. St. Joseph Montvale and Paramus Catholic should be strong, and it’s anybody’s guess after that. Clifton lost most of its team from last year. In the White Division, I would go so far as to install Glen Rock as the early favorite, along with Paramus and West Milford. In the Blue Division, it should be Sparta, Passaic Valley, and DePaul Catholic at the top.
In the Central Conference, the Red Division (as Mike wrote in his blog) looks to be just terrific. Ridge, Bridgewater-Raritan, and St. Joseph Metuchen are joined by Montgomery as the favorites, but watch out for Verona to make a big adjustment in its second year at the Red Division level. In the White Division, Hillsborough has to be favored ahead of Watchung Hills, MKA, and Hunterdon Central. In the Blue Division, I honestly have no idea, but maybe this is the year West Orange comes out on top.
Down in the Southern Conference, we mentioned the tough top two of Bishop Eustace and St. Augustine Prep. Props to RBC for playing one of the most difficult schedules in the state, while MonDon, TRN, and Middletown South should all be competitive. No idea how Gloucester Catholic will compete, but they have scheduled a non-league game! And I wrote them off last year and was wrong, so don’t discount the Rams. In the White Division, I’ve heard very good things about Wall and Middletown North, and you have to figure Brick Township (young team last year) and Old Bridge (one-man wrecking crew) will be in that fight as well. No clue about Paul VI. In the Blue Division, it’s pretty wide open again, with Brick Memorial, TRS, Manasquan, and Point Pleasant my top four.
Steinert should lead the way in the CVC with a strong returning cast, and the Colonial Division should once again be very competitive and entertaining thanks to Notre Dame, Princeton, and Hopewell Valley. I’ll take WWPS over Hightstown in the Valley and Lawrence over Nottingham in the Patriot, but I’m glad to see this conference balanced at four teams per division.
In Morris County, Randolph and Morris Knolls should be the cream of the crop, and it will be very interesting to see how Mountain Lakes adjusts to its first year in the Mennen Division with last year’s Mennen Cup finalists, Morristown-Beard and Chatham. It says here the Lakers will play well enough to stay in the division, whether that means finishing fourth or just being competitive all year.
Pingry, West Morris, and Mendham are the Halvorsen favorites, but Morris Hills’ kids have a year of upper-division experience, and Kinnelon might have some home-ice advantage.
In the lower two divisions, Park Regional finally moves up to the Haas to challenge Jefferson and Pequannock. Mount Olive and Madison will like their chances in the Charette.
In the NBIAL, it’s disappointing to see Demarest play a reduced league schedule (one game against each opponent), but the top of the division remains strong. Ramapo will be very competitive, with Fair Lawn, Indian Hills, Northern Highlands, and Mahwah not far behind.

2 Comments

  1. Alex Velischek(Delbarton) and Kyle Palmieri(St. Peter’s) both suffered injuries in scrimmages this week. They probably will be sitting at least one game.

    Even though you are not here in NJ, your assessment seems right on the money. I don’t know about Montgomery though. Pope John beat them 4-1, and without the spectacular performance of their goalie, it could easily have been 10-1. Ridge also beat them quite handily.

    Looking forward to all of your posts.

    Comment by Carol Messina — 1 December 2006 #

  2. I would expect the Southern Red to be a 1 horse race with St. Augustine easily dominating the division. I think your ranking of Eustace ahead of St A’s was probably based on the assumption that the goaltending situation would remain the same as last year at Eustace – it looks like Colin Saltiel has chosen Jr’s over HS this year, ditto for standout defenseman Taylor Morgan. Eustace no longer has the defense to counter Augustine’s relentless offensive pressure. Additionally, too little respect is paid to goalie Kevin Healey and the Hermits defensive corp…this will be the season when St. A’s will make a serious run at state title contention. As for the rest of the division, your read looks accurate to me. I expect to see Gloucester Catholic struggle with the better competition they will face this year. Their first and second line centers are no longer with the team, Ryan Lynch has chosen to prioritize Jr’s hockey, and Ryan Mara has transferred to St. Augustine. Junior Vince Capone and Sophomore Nick Allison will be expected to pick up the pieces, but the Rams will have to make due with fewer goals scored and no senior presence to counter their opponents top lines.

    Comment by Mark Lynch — 1 December 2006 #

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