VERONA, NJ — Coming off of a Kelly Cup title game trip last season, the Verona-Glen Ridge Ice Hockey Team is up for the challenge of taking on a new division in 2021.

“We’re going to be extremely difficult to play against every night, we’re a gritty, fast group. I think we’re going to be right in the mix this year,” said Verona-Glen Ridge Head Coach Ken Lilien. 

In 2021, VGR will move up to the McInnis division where they will play an increasingly talented group of opponents. Perennial contenders Summit, Livingston, Montclair and West Essex are all featured in the newly adjusted McInnis Division.

Sign Up for Verona/Cedar Grove Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

‘We’re playing against some of the toughest public schools in the state,” said Lilien.

If the added level of competition isn’t enough of a challenge the Hillbillies will have to, like the rest of the state, prepare for a shortened season. The condensed season due to COVID-19 has made dealing with injuries, fatigue management, and game-planning additional challenges not normal in a regularly timed year. 

“This year it’s a sprint, not a marathon,” said Lilien.

This year the Hillbillies will be led by their defensive pairing who were instrumental in the squad getting to the Kelly Cup Finals last year. Captains Zach Gold and Jack Lonsinger will lead the charge for VGR. Last season, Gold led  the squad with 35 points. 

“[Gold] is a tremendous hockey player, he’s tremendous defensively, he leads us and creates offense from the back,” said Lilien.

Lonsinger, on the other hand, is more of a traditional defensemen for the squad fortifying it’s defensive scheme. 

“[Lonsinger]’s a solid defensive player, he’s one of the leaders on the team,” said Lilien.

The two captains will be protecting the net that will see a newer face take the reins. Senior Keith Juros will be the squad’s starting goalie after spending the last few years backing up one of New Jersey’s best. 

“[Juros] is poised and ready to take over the net….he’s ready to be the man,” said Lilien. 

On the attack, the Hillbillies will utilize their youth and speed to take advantage of opposing defenses. Last season’s leading scorer Rowan Brennan returns after a 22-goal freshman campaign. Brennan will be flanked by junior Dominick Pandiscia and sophomore Will Benson, who combined for nine goals and six assists last season.

“The guys learned a lot from last season, experience is going to be key,” said Lilien. 

Verona-Glen Ridge will open its season on Saturday against West Essex. 

“We will be ready to go, we’re looking to sneak up on a bunch of teams this year,” said Lilien.