NORTH CALDWELL, NJ - While a 5-15-2 overall record might not stand out as a positive for the West Essex high school ice hockey team, the Knights showed improvement throughout the course of the season and it appears the young team will continue to develop heading into next season.
“Overall, we were young.” head coach Marc Gregory said. “We lacked experience so we struggled a little bit. We have a really talented group of young players who have a lot of potential for the future.”
The team showed improvement as the season went on, as they played in close games later in the season against teams that handed the Knights’ lopsided losses earlier on in the year.
On Dec. 20, the Knights lost, 7-0, to the eventual McInnis Cup Champions Montclair Kimberly Academy. However, later in the season on Jan. 24, West Essex played Montclair Kimberly Academy to a, 4-4, tie.
On Dec. 12, in the team’s third game of the season, the Knights were defeated by Millburn, 4-1. However, later in the season on Jan. 12, West Essex defeated Millburn in a, 1-0, shutout.
“We improved as the year went on,” Gregory said. “That’s a credit to the upperclassmen sticking together and still playing hard and the younger guys learning and getting better as the season went on.”
The Knights had four graduating seniors on the roster this season, including Henry Mead, Mike Dominguez, Joe Chris and Mike Nemeth.
Aside from their leadership ability as seniors, Gregory said that the team will miss the speed and skating ability of Mead and Dominguez, which helped create open ice for the Knights this season.
He also said that Chris’ good shot and ability to get open and Nemeth’s defensive physical play and work ethic will be missed next season.
Dominguez was tied for the team lead in points this season with nine, posting four goals and five assists. However, Gregory said this year’s squad was more of a grind it out team with a focus on good defensive hockey than a team that would fill the back of the net with pucks each night.
“Our goaltending and our defensive play was certainly our strengths and that still has to be the cornerstone,” Gregory said. “It would be nice to get a little more offensive punch, but you still have to play good defense and get good goaltending to win.”
The Knights will continue to look to current sophomore Cole Danlin between the pipes next season. Danlin appeared in 10 games for the Knights on 2014-2015, and will look to continue to develop in his upcoming junior year.
“He has a bright future ahead of him,” Gregory said. “He has a lot of talent, he just has to work extremely hard to continue improving.”
As if internal development of the players currently in West Essex’s ice hockey program was not enough, there is the potential that the team could get a group of new recruits for next season as part of a co-op ice hockey team between James Caldwell High School and West Essex High School, which was proposed by the Caldwell-West Caldwell Board of Education.
The proposed co-op is still awaiting a vote by the Caldwell-West Caldwell Board of Education, and the West Essex Board of Education approved the plan for a co-op ice hockey team with Caldwell on March 23.
According to NJSIAA guidelines, the application for the co-op would have to be submitted to the league by April 28 in order for the sport to be available to students at James Caldwell High School next year.
Gregory said that he could not comment on the potential co-op program until it was “a sure thing.”
Regardless of the future of a potential co-op, Gregory said he is focused on the players he has in his program now and plans to begin training for next year.
“It really has to come from the younger guys now,” Gregory said. “As far as the spring, that’s what we’re doing. We’re starting in the spring and it’s an ongoing process all the way up until the season next year.”