BERKELEY HEIGHTS - Gov. Livingston hockey coach Michael Criscitello already has the proper mindset to keep his team balanced on the thin ice produced with the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Everyone understands the situation,” said Criscitello, who enters his fifth season with a 23-24-6 record guiding the co-op with New Providence. “With everything that’s gone on and how unsettled everything is just having a season to play is a huge asset now. Everyone would have loved to have played a full season. There is no state tournament this year but at least getting the chance to play for the Kelly Cup after the regular season games. They have something to play for.”

After graduating seven seniors from last season’s squad, the Highlanders will field a nice blend of experience to go with its largest freshmen class in years. Gov. Livingston graduated seven seniors from a club that finished 10-11-4 last season competing in the NJIIHL Kelly Division.

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The 2020 Highlanders lost to eventual champion Summit, 4-0, in the Union County Tournament semifinal round. Then followed an impressive run in the state tournament with a 1-0 first-round victory over Morristown in the NJSIAA Public B tournament. Gov. Livingston then bowed to Middletown South, the eventual state finalist, 3-1 in the quarterfinal round.

However, this winter offers a nice blend of experience mixed with some skilled underclassmen. Criscitello will field a team with five seniors, six juniors, six sophomores and five freshmen. Click here for full roster as posted on NJ.com. 

In the vanguard for the Highlanders will be senior captain Drew Skotarczak, a 6-1, 180-pound defenseman. The talented four-year varsity performer is sound in his own end, excellent at making the initial outlet pass, and led the team in assists last season with 19 to go with three goals.

“It’s a really crazy year,” Skotarczak said, “but we are all just happy to be back on the ice. Our team really wants to build off last year. Every team really has to follow the protocols and go from there. It’s really just awesome to get back on the ice, and since there is no state tournament this season we have to focus on the Kelly Cup.”

Also back on the blue line with Skotarczak is sophomore Brandon Cucarro, who also delivered a fine 2020 campaign with 23 points on 12 goals and 11 assists.

On offense Criscitello can deploy senior forwards Tommy Hoy (4-9-13) and Jack Norton (5-10-15), junior Matt Darata (4-4-8) and sophomore Brian Kramer, who finished with 34 points on 21 goals and 13 assists. 

The last line of defense looks strong with Shane Cook again in goal. The junior sported a .935 save-percentage in 2020. The coach has been impressed with freshman forward Brady Silverman.

“Obviously the biggest disappointment for everybody this season is that there will be no state tournament this year,” Criscitello said. “That’s what every team shoots for, competing in the state tournament, but we all understand the situation. We still have a season to play and that’s a valuable asset now.

“We want to be competitive in a very tough division and our first goal is to find consistency while remaining healthy. With everything that’s going on this will be a big adjustment and learning curve at the same time for everyone. You have to be flexible and monitor everything and stick to all the team protocols. It could be a choppy start but once we get going we’re hoping things will settle down, and we can have a good season.”

Gov Livingston opens its season when it plays host to Watchung Hills on Jan. 18 at Warinaco Rink in Roselle at 8:35 p.m. Due to COVID-19 capacity restrictions there will be no spectators inside the rinks. All games at Warinaco and Union Sports Area will be streamed on LiveBarn according to the Governor Livingston Ice Hockey Facebook page.

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Valairco Heating & Cooling continues to be the proud sponsor of the Highlander Athlete of the Week. Kevin McHugh, Valairco Owner and President and Berkeley Heights resident, is an alumni of Gov. Livingston High School.

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