CHATHAM, NJ - The Chatham boys ice hockey team isn't dwelling on the hole in its roster left by the departure of a large senior class. Rather, coach Brendon Herr has kept the same season goals for the Cougars, who have reached the Public C state final in each of the last two seasons.
"I said to these guys in our first meeting that our expectations don't change just because we graduated 14 seniors," Herr said. "We have a good group of younger players moving up that can fill some important roles for us and take up some ice time. I feel really comfortable with our goaltending and our defensive core."
The goaltending might provide the most interesting twist to the start of the season, which opens 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 30 vs. Madison at Mennen Sports Arena. Two seniors, Will Ewald and Jennifer Olnowich, are in a preseason battle for playing time. In the first scrimmage, a 6-2 win over Verona, Ewald and Olnowich split time and each allowed one goal.
Olnowich, who is headed to Princeton University to play NCAA Division 1 women's ice hockey, will make history as soon as she hits the ice as Chatham's first-ever female to play for the boys' varsity. Four-year varsity defender Danny Mahoney played with Olnowich in the fall on the Penguins club team.
"I'm so happy that we have her," Mahoney said. "This was my first year playing on club with her. She's really athletic and makes good saves. She'll definitely keep us in games."
Olnowich is no stranger to playing ice hockey against boys. She's been doing it for years as a member of Tier 1 club teams.
"I'm excited," Olnowich said. "I've played with a bunch of the Chatham boys on the Penquins. I'm used to playing with the boys and they're no better than the ones I've played with."
To fill out his young team, Herr has added three freshmen to the varsity - the Curry twins, Ronan and Doyle, and Jeffrey Burke. Doyle Curry is a forward and Ronan Curry is a defender, as is Burke. The Currys join their older brother, junior Declan, who had five goals and three assists last season.
"We definitely have a chance to have a good season," Mahoney said. "I think it's going to be great to see all three Curry boys on the ice together. The two twins have a lot of talent. I was not expecting them to be as good as they are. We're also looking for Declan Curry and Ryan Sordillo to step it up on offense."
Sordillo, also a junior, registered seven goals and 10 assists last season. The other forwards include Thomas Sennett, Brandon Lupi, Luke Hale, Ryan Mancino, Eric Ivers, William White, Tim Triano, and Kyle Koehler.
Chatham and its zone defense might be the strength of the team, led by Mahoney, who also is a member of the power play and finished with three goals and 10 assists last year.
The Cougars have depth on defense with Mahoney joined by Spencer Spagnuolo, Kory Kleinle, Gabriel Park, Quinn Kelly, Doyle Curry, Jeffrey Burke, and Andrew Petruska.
"The freshmen were impressive in the tryouts," Herr said. "They're all mature players and they'll fit right into a role on this team and, hopefully, contribute. I don't think our style changes. We want to be hard on pucks and attack whenever we can. We play a defensive zone scheme and that has proven helpful to us. I know we lost a lot but the incoming freshmen and JV players are getting their first varsity experience will do fine."