MIDDLETOWN, NJ: With just about a few days before the New Jersey high school hockey starts up again, teams are preparing to be ready. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the season was pushed back and is scheduled to start January 18th. The Middletown North Lions will be looking to build off a season that saw them eliminated in the NJSIAA Tournament First Round. They had a record of 9-13-2. Most of the roster will be returning and they will be bolstered by CBA transfer Jace Koeningsmark.

“It’s always nice to get someone of that kind of caliber where he comes in from a program like that. He’s been around guys that win. Him being around that program and practicing and playing with those guys will be a big boost to us,” Wood said.

All games are set to be played against Shore Conference division rivals; the Lions will be in the North Division. Other teams in that division include Christian Brother’s Academy, Manasquan-Point Pleasant Beach, Marlboro-Holmdel, Middletown South, Red Bank Catholic, Rumson-Fair Haven, St. John Vianney and St. Rose. 

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Head coach Donald Wood is optimistic about the season and feels the team could have a different look for this upcoming season. The Lions will have big shoes to fill in net with Matthew Corella graduated but Wood still feels confident with Justin Dickinson in net. Wood said that last season the team was able to get away with only scoring a few goals due to Corella’s presence in net and the team’s overall solid defensive play. Now, Wood believes the team has more depth upfront to get to work offensively. He also said he wants the team to do a better job of staying out of the penalty box. 

“If you’re giving a team like CBA, or Middletown South or Vianney, any of these top teams; if you’re giving up four powerplay opportunities a game you’re not going to win. You CBA five powerplay opportunities they’re probably going to connect on two of them. Right there we need to score three.”

Wood also wanted to work more on playing stronger defense for a complete 45 minutes. He noted that there were several instances where the Lions were caught in their defensive zone for stretches at a time, be it from a missed coverage or failing to get the puck deep offensively. Wood also credited Corella for his play and being able to cover up for when the team started “running around” in the defensive zone. 

With many of the team’s more responsible defensive players still on the team, Wood is expecting them to still play quality defense, but he is also looking to see an improvement to the team’s offense. Wood still sees strong depth in the team’s lineup. He pointed out the balanced offense the team had last year, with John Miranda being the only player to eclipse the 10-goal mark with 12 goals on the season. Wood said he expects several of the older players to see an increase in offensive production. Miranda’s 19 points led the team last year followed closely by Jesse Dickinson with 17 points and Andrew Gross with 14 points. 

Wood expects multiple guys to help chip in offensively and is hoping that the improved depth helps loosen a load that his top guys had to carry offensively. In addition to more scoring, wood still expects strong two way play from his players. The Lions kick off their season January 18th at 10:00am against Rumson-Fair Haven.