By Jimmy Allinder
The Monroe Township High School ice hockey team suffered its first loss before this season even began.
The team’s leading scorer from a year ago, Gerard Marretta, transferred to the Tilton School in New Hampshire along with his 40 points (24 goals and 16 assists). Jerry Minter, head coach since the program’s inception in 2005, knows it will be a challenge replacing Marretta but is hopeful his team can make up for the loss in offensive production.
“We have the most depth in the history of Monroe hockey,” Minter said. “Our success will depend on effort, team chemistry and remaining healthy.”
Minter projects three lines comprised of nine regulars and five defensemen who will be on the ice most of the time, although others are looking to crack the lineup. The team’s depth has also provided the coach with the capability of playing at a faster pace for an entire match.
“Our strength in preseason has been sustained pressure on opponents for the full 45 minutes,” he said.
The return of two-thirds of the Falcons’ top point-scorers is why Minter is confident about the team’s prospects. Junior forward Dominic Micalizzi heads the list with five goals and 19 assists, followed by sophomore defenseman Matthew Skobelev, a regular last year who netted seven goals with 14 assists. Minter believes Skobelev will soon become an impact player.
Junior forward Kyle Lange scored eight goals and assisted on 12, while junior forward Michael Benedetti registered 10 goals with eight assists. Senior defenseman and acting captain Kevin Broskie (one goal, 10 assists) will anchor one of the backline pairings, and junior forward Michael Conover (four goals, four assists) returns as another regular.
Junior forward Anthony Lane (three goals, four assists), senior forward Robert Robol (one goal, four assists), junior defenseman Kenneth Helmold (one goal, three assists) and senior forward Trevor Thompson (one goal, three assists) will also see extensive playing time.
A major hole to fill is in goal. Senior and acting captain Brian Nichols played in nine games last year and is expected to see most of the time in the net, with junior Charles Burkshot backing him up.
Since the Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) was formed, Saint Joseph High School of Metuchen has been the odds-on favorite to win the league tournament title, and that will also be the case this season.
Minter said the possibility exists, however, that a number of teams could mount a challenge, including Monroe.
“St. Joe’s graduated a lot of quality players the last two seasons, but [they] still have a few upperclassmen who are great talents in addition to a solid group of young players,” Minter said. “And they’re well-coached.
“Still, this season is going to be a great opportunity for another team, hopefully us, to knock them off. It won’t be easy.”
Monroe opened the season Nov. 29 with a 4-3 loss to Manalapan High School from the Shore Conference, but it bounced back by defeating the combined Edison-J.P. Stevens team, 11-1, in their GMC opener Dec. 2. That match lasted less than two periods because of the 10-goal mercy rule and featured a hat trick by Conover and two goals by Benedetti and sophomore Samuel Fishteyn. Skobelev also played a strong game with four assists and a goal.
The Falcons were scheduled to be in action again Dec. 7 against South Brunswick High School.