NUTLEY, NJ - Coming from a (12-8-3, 6-3-2 NJIHL) 2015-2016 season, Andrew Surowiec enters his first year as the Nutley Ice Hockey Head Coach feeling more confident about this year’s boys and girls.

After spending last year as an assistant coach, Surowiec hopes to lead the team to a more successful season this year.

“I think we could have done better,” Surowiec said of last year’s season. “We definitely underachieved.”

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The co-ed varsity team has lost ten of the previous season’s seniors and acquired eight freshmen, but Surowiec says this year’s team is already getting along better and collaborating more than the previous one.

After defeating Toms River East 9-3 in the first round of the NJSIAA Tournament, the team took a hit in the second round of States, dropping their final game 8-1 to Lakeland.

“We had the talent, but the cohesiveness of the team wasn’t as good as it should have been, so I think this year we have a better core group of guys that get along better,” Surowiec said in an interview with TAPinto Nutley.

After about a dozen practices, Surowiec has noticed a major improvement in the way the kids have been playing.

“I think they’ve definitely come along since the first practice,” the coach said. “I think they’re doing pretty well.”

Communication between the team has also improved since early December. At the first practice, the players were silent, but Surowiec now hears a lot talking on the ice.

“That’s what we want to hear,” the coach said. “I always think that a little bit of talent and getting along really well is a lot better than a lot of talent and the team not getting along.”

The team has many young players because the JV program was dropped two years ago. During practices, the teams have been splitting up so the youngsters can learn the basics, while the more experienced players undergo more intense training.

As one of the few seniors on the team, Gerard LaFiura knows he will have much more responsibility this season. The forward recorded 12 goals and 12 assists during his junior season.

“I feel I have to be more of a leader this year and help the other guys learn the ropes and everything,” LaFiura told TAPinto Nutley.

LaFiura was content with his junior year season, especially with the Toms River East defeat, where he contributed two assists in his team’s 9-3 victory.

“That game was a big victory for us, made us very confident and brought us very close together,” he said.

Senior Tim Spitalnik will be the leading goalie this season, after accumulating 231 saves in the past three seasons, with 78 coming from his junior year.

Senior captain Dan Caputo enters his third year as a defenseman and is expected to lead the team’s defense. Caputo was voted NJ.com’s best ice hockey playmaker in the NJIHL last year.

The team enters its first season in the NJIHL’s Kelly Division, which has been merged with the Union County Conference.

Nutley will host the Cranford Cougars Saturday for their home opener. Cranford finished last year’s season (12-8-1) and dropped the first round of the NJSIAA Tournament to Wall. To start off the 2016-2017 season, they fell in their first game to their rival Governor Livingston, but defeated Scotch Plains-Fanwood two days later.

“I think we’re gonna go out there, have a good game, work as a team and hopefully get that win,” LaFiura said.

Nutley will take on Cranford at the Richard J. Codey Arena in West Orange. The teams will face off at 5:45 pm.