By Jeff Appelblatt
Joe Rotella, Woodbridge High School’s ice hockey coach, expected his team to perform better than it did a year ago, but he’s in awe with how good his team has really done this season
“I thought we would have been about a .500 team,” the coach said after his club dominated its rival from Colonia High School, 7-1, Jan. 22.
Sure enough, the Barrons haven’t been .500 since after their second game of the season — an outing in which Saint Joseph High School of Metuchen beat them, 12-2. At the time, Rotella wasn’t bothered by that loss. It was one he expected the day he saw his team’s schedule.
However, over a month later, he couldn’t imagine that his team would have yet to lose again. Rotella, whose team is 12-1-2, has a number of reasons why his guys have been so successful and so dominant.
“It’s a combination of the kids listening to us and listening to the system this year,” the coach said. “We’ve got a good group.”
Rotella knew Kyle Mortensen would be one of his top offensive weapons, but he didn’t anticipate how great Mortensen would truly end up.
“He’s definitely good for a goal a game,” Woodbridge’s coach said about the leading scorer, who has found the net more than two times per game.
Rotella couldn’t forget about the players who most often set the shots up for Mortensen.
“Hunter Spearnock, Nick Kuchie and Mike Parfitt — [Mortensen] wouldn’t have all those goals without them getting the puck to him,” Rotella said.
The trio combined for 68 assists in Woodbridge’s first 15 matches, many of which led to Mortensen’s 33 goals this season. When the puck has ended up in front of him and he didn’t have a shot on the net, the senior made sure to pay his teammates back. Mortensen dished out 17 assists, most often to Spearnock and Kuchie, who have netted 30 goals.
Rotella also praised his goaltenders.
“It’s been a blessing having two goalies we could count on,” he said. “They know they’re not going to be out there every game, and neither [Adam Godfrey or Lucas Hrabkovsky] have ever had a problem with that. It’s nice having two goalies that could compete with each other.”
A friendly competition, of course, and one that has proven to work. The tandem has stopped about 90 percent of shots fired at them.
With the Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) Tournament rapidly approaching, Rotella won’t guarantee his team will keep performing at such a high level. He hopes it will, though. But he has things mapped out if his squad loses one of its last few regular-season games.
“[A loss] would be fuel for the fire,” the coach said. “I think it would be a motivational thing.”
Not that Rotella is hoping for a loss anytime soon. He’s not hoping for a tie, either. At this point, he can think back to the two ties and say that his team should have won those.
“We had a lull in the beginning of January,” the coach said. “We tied teams we should have beaten.”
The Barrons might have a chance to make up for one of those ties. After their first-round bye in the GMC Tournament, Woodbridge will go up against either South Brunswick High School or Monroe Township High School. On Jan. 6, Monroe became the first team to finish a game knotted up with the Barrons, 4-4. Two nights later, they tied Marlboro-Holmdel, 3-3.
“The guys want to see Monroe that game for revenge,” Rotella said. “Me, in my head, I would like to see South Brunswick. But we’ve seen them each twice.”
Before Monroe tied Woodbridge, the Barrons dominated that team, 10-3, Dec. 4. Meanwhile, Woodbridge took care of South Brunswick twice, 5-2 and 6-3.
Either way, before Woodbridge knows who it will be playing, it needs to finish off the regular season, starting with a 3:30 p.m. meeting Jan. 29 in Woodbridge against Montgomery High School.
The boys basketball team from Woodbridge was out for some revenge Jan. 21, when it faced off against J.P. Stevens High School, which defeated the Barrons, 40-29, Dec. 22.
The Barrons were on the winning end of the rematch, 48-44, and extended their winning streak to seven games.
Woodbridge hoped for its eighth win in a row when it traveled to Edison High School Jan. 27, and it will look to add another win Jan. 28 when the team from South Plainfield High School makes the trip to Woodbridge for a 7 p.m. match with the Barrons.
As bright as the mats throughout Woodbridge have looked this month, the Barrons’ wrestlers have showed their local rivals from Colonia and John F. Kennedy (JFK) Memorial High School that they are a level above. When the teams from the three schools met for a tri-meet Jan. 23 in Colonia, the Barrons left their competitors stunned.
To be precise, the Barrons crushed the Patriots, 62-12, before pinning the Mustangs, 52-14. Woodbridge’s wins added to a marvelous season that includes losing only twice in its first 19 meets.
Really, nothing was out of the ordinary for the Barrons — Alex LaGrippo, Bryan McLaughlin, Dale Alvarez, Elyas Azouszi, Sidney Pierre, Vincent Zecchino and Zachary Cottrell each wrestled multiple times in the meet and won each their matches.
Woodbridge looked to continue its winning ways when it hosted Monroe Jan. 27 before hosting Edison Feb. 3 at 7 p.m.
JFK Memorial High School
The Mustangs’ wrestlers had every right to be poised when things got started in Colonia. The team as a whole had lost only once in nine chances, thanks largely to the impressive showings of Aaron Coleman and Victor Torres. The two were some of the few bright spots when facing Woodbridge, though.
Coleman and Torres look to continue their individual success Jan. 30 at 9 a.m. at Piscataway Township High School. They can only hope their teammates will look more like they did when they faced Colonia than when they faced Woodbridge, as JFK Memorial defeated Colonia, 46-23.
Colonia High School
One of the few positives the Patriots were able to take away from the Jan. 23 meet with its neighbors was the performance of Luke Pero. The sophomore stayed focused, and he defeated everyone who was thrown at him from each of the opponents, including Torres from JFK Memorial.
As a result of his 46-second pin of Jacob Catalano from Woodbridge and his 5-4 victory over Torres, Pero’s perfect season is still in tact.
Colonia faced Carteret High School Jan. 26 and travels to Piscataway Jan. 29 for the Greater Middlesex Conference Championships at 5 p.m.