After going 5-16-2 a year ago, and missing both the divisional and the state playoffs, the Millburn ice hockey team has its sights set on big improvements this season, which include qualifying for both of its postseason tournaments.
Millburn has some of its key players returning to help them get over the hump. Perhaps the most important player, and possibly the best player in the New Jersey Ice Hockey League, is Phil Pikus. The junior forward is likely to be among the state leaders in points and goals scored this season, possessing dominant ice skills.
"Phil's a dominant player. He's one of the best players in the league, I think last year he led the league in points and goals, and I expect the same out of him this year," said Millburn head coach Brandon Doria. "The thing about Phil is that he makes everyone else better. He's not just somebody who goes out there and scores goals."
Along with Pikus, Josh Greenberg has also returned to the scoring front for Millburn, a year removed from tallying 20 goals and 20 assists for the Millers. Also returning on the offense are both captains, Jacob Goldstein and A.J. Mallon. Other contributors include Jacob Nitti and Dominick DeLeone Even more importantly, Corey Nadell returns as a veteran in net, which is always a good thing for teams looking to go places.
"I think we are going to be much better. I think we'll contend for our league playoff and for states. We're just a much better team," Pikus said of this season's roster. "Everyone really gets along much better, I think we have a much better defense, so I think that's really going to help us out."
Defensively, freshmen Johnny Bergeron and Trevor Stack has stepped into a starting role, and will help limit the amount of shots Nadell sees.
"Corey is a solid goaltender and he is the backbone of our team," Doria said. "When you have a solid goaltender, that helps you out a lot. Being able to count on him, because you know not everyone is perfect, so we know that if we do make a mistake here or there, nine times out of 10, Corey's going to be there to back us up."
Looking at the Northern Division, it would appear that the favorites are Nutley, Livingston and Montclair Kimberley Academy. Of course, this is all based off of how the teams finished last winter, which doesn't always rollover from year-to-year in high school sports. MKA is the defending McInnis Cup (league championship) champ, Nutley reached the cup final last season and Livingston is perennially a quality program.
"As long as we improve throughout the season, I think everyone will be happy. And I think we'll be able to do some damage in the league this season."
Both Pikus and Doria pointed to team camaraderie as a strength which can propel them forward.
"We've done a lot of preseason stuff, and this is a very tight knit group and that means everyone sticks up for each other," Doria said. "When you're a team like that, when you're backing up each other on the ice and off of the ice, it helps out when you're in tight games. You know that you can rely on people."
Millburn is currently 1-1, and plays its third game of the season against rival, Livingston on Friday at Codey Arena.