It’s opening day for the New Jersey high school ice hockey season, and I’m sitting in a hotel room in Tulsa. Very strange.
But it’s great to know there will be scores to input tonight, the first of about 1,500 that will take us to the NJSIAA championship games on March 7.
Opening day in any sport is always special, a date that’s been circled on the calendar for months. In New Jersey, that date was December 1 for years and years, as long as I could remember. But prior to the 2012-13 season, Big North athletic directors asked the NJSIAA to let games start on the last weekend of November. Given the northern teams’ reliance on weekend ice slots, the request was granted, and so the first pucks drop – officially – today, November 28, the earliest start in my 20 years of covering the sport.
Growing up in Morris County, December 1 was always a target of mine, even if the opener was between the two worst teams in the league. Any hockey is better than no hockey, after all!
Fortunately (or unfortunately for me, being on the road), this year’s opening day has several outstanding matchups (check out the schedule), most of which occur in North Jersey:
- Kinnelon vs. Chatham, 2 pm, Skylands
The debut of new Cougars head coach Brandon Herr is the first regular-season game of the year, kicking off just a few hours from now.
- Don Bosco Prep vs. Pope John, 5 pm, Ice Vault
The first Gordon Conference game of the year should give us an idea of how competitive Pope John will be with some of the state’s top dogs and, potentially, how strong Don Bosco will be.
- Morristown vs. Morristown-Beard, 6:15 pm, Mennen Arena
Spoiler alert: Both teams are in my soon-to-be-released Hockey Night in Boston preseason top 10 for the entire state. The first of two meetings, this rivalry certainly dates back to my first season covering NJ hockey in 1996-97 (oh, the stories from those 96-97 and 97-98 games), and I’m fascinated to see and hear reports from this one.
- Montville vs. Mendham, 8:15 pm, Mennen Arena
Well, there’s no question where I would be if I were in Jersey today – this Mennen Arena doubleheader. Montville tries to continue its success of the last two years (Haas Division, Halvorsen Division titles), while Mendham is hoping to stamp itself as a division-title contender.
- Passaic Valley / Cedar Grove vs. Ridgewood, 9:10 pm, Floyd Hall Arena
I hear good things about both teams for this season, with Ridgewood obviously coming from a slightly more elevated historical position, so I’m very curious to see how this one plays out.