NORTH CALDWELL, NJ — After a successful 2020 campaign the West Essex Ice Hockey Team is looking for continued winning in 2021 with a more youthful group.

“I have a positive outlook on this season, I think the seniors that graduated last year did such a great job laying the groundwork and teaching the kids that were left how to win and how to compete,” said West Essex Head Coach Marc Gregory.

The Knights will return to a McInnis Division that has been slightly reworked in 2021. While the competition will be stiff the group knows what it will take to win. 

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“It's one of the best conferences in the state, it’s competitive, every team is good, every game will be close, you'll need to show up every day with your ‘A’ game,” said Gregory.

This season, due to Covid-19, the teams will play a shortened season to have some semblance of normalcy. Since there will be no State Playoffs it’s McInnis Cup or bust in terms of historical accolades.  

“Everything falls on the League and getting a McInnis Championship would be great for us,” said Gregory. 

On the Attack: junior Rocco Garcia will lead the group as one of it’s featured playmakers. Last year Garcia collected eight goals for West Essex. 

Also returning in 2021 for the Knights will be their leading scorer Justin Bergman. Last year as a freshman Bergman led the team with 11 goals scored. 

“We’re really well-balanced,” said Gregory.

Joining Garcia will be senior leadership from the only two on the team. Antonio DiMeola and Alex Laglia were solid contributors last year who did the little things to help various others on the team find the back of the net.

“There’s not a lot of seniors, but those guys are going to help,” said Gregory. 

Defensively West Essex is expecting to be strong with a number of returning players. Alex Kierepka, Gil Prial, Tommy O’Hern and Ty Vastola will all see significant ice time clearing loose pucks from the front of the net and starting the offensive transition. 

“Everything is based off defense, good defensive play will help our offense,” said Gregory.

The defensive unit will be asked to protect the crease for this year's starting goaltender Louis Fantasia. Fantasia has been steadily improving based on off-season training. 

“We’re very impressed with [Fantasia], day one he showed up on the ice bigger, stronger, he’s gotten much quicker, he worked real hard,” said Gregory.

When Fantasia is not in net the position will also see time from Zach Jewett and Rachel Pavlovich.

West Essex' opening weekend is scheduled to include games against Livingston Friday and Verona-Glen Ridge on Saturday. 

“VGR is always tough, they’re a well-coached team; they’re always prepared. I think it’s going to be a tight game,” said Gregory.