BERKELEY HEIGHTS - When the opportunity arose on the ice three years ago Drew Skotarczak seized on it immediately.

Then a freshman, Skotarczak was thrust into a big-minute role for the Gov. Livingston/New Providence hockey team after a senior defenseman suffered a season-ending injury in the beginning of the 2017-2018 campaign. 

The Highlanders have been the beneficiary of that turn of events ever since.

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“One of our senior defenseman got hurt and was lost for the season,” recalled Gov. Livingston coach Michael Criscitello, “and we needed somebody to step into that spot. We had to decide whether we would give Drew a shot. He had good size even as a freshman, and we thought he could do it. He took to it right away and even then I saw his ability adjust to the high school pace, which isn’t usually easy for a freshman.

“You could see his confidence and it stood out how he could make very accurate tape-to-tape outlet passes, find the open man, and get the puck out of our end and up the ice. He proved himself pretty quickly and hasn’t looked back.”

Whether it’s his play as a reliable shut-down defenseman, killing penalties, moving the puck quickly or running the Highlanders’ power play - Skotarczak led the team with 19 assists - Skotarczak has surely proven his reliability, durability, and leadership.

“It seems so long ago now,” Skotarczak said. “I didn’t even know if I’d make the team. Coming into my freshman year I was just trying to feel out the team and get my bearings. The pace was so much faster but when I got the chance I just tried to keep reminding myself to relax mentally and just play.”

As for his first game?

“I got called for a tripping penalty on my first shift,” Skotarczak recalled jokingly. “Not a good way to start your high school career. But I got over it and focused on playing as best as I could."

Skotarczak will also wear the “C” on his sweater as the team’s captain after serving as an assistant last winter.

Still, the humble 6-1,180-pounder believes he has more to prove. 

“For myself, I felt like I kind of had a bit of a down season last year,” said Skotarczak, who will attend Northeastern in the fall. “Our team had a pretty good run but I think maybe I set my sights too high. I wanted to be the best I could be for the team and maybe I didn’t reach all the goals I had set.”

Despite the shortened season due to the Covid-19 pandemic — there will be no state tournament — Skotarczak and his teammates are ready to skate into this season.

“Our team really wants to build off last year,” said Skotarczak, who began by playing roller hockey in Green Brook. “We had some practices and it was awesome to be able to get back on the ice. Looking back to the summer we were hoping to have a season, especially the seniors. So this season we are really the Kelly Cup. That’s what we have to play for without the state tournament.”

When Criscitello is asked about Skotarczak’s attributes, the coach can list many.

“Drew does everything right. He puts in all the work and holds high expectations for himself, and his teammates. He has had such a super growth curve, especially in terms of leadership. He’s really molded himself to be a team leader, and he will do a super job, especially with all the issues this season.

“He is our quarterback on offense and has the ability and physical presence to be that prototypical shutdown guy on defense. He has all the skills and always makes everyone around him better.”

Click here for Highlander schedule that kicks off Monday, January 18 against Watchung Hills Regional High School with a 8:35 p.m. puck drop. (Due to COVID-19 restrictions, no spectators will be allowed in the rink, games will be livestreamed.)

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