MANALAPAN — In its return to a full season of action on the ice during the 2021-22 season, the Manalapan High School hockey team put together a strong 12-7-1 campaign.
The Braves enter the 2022-23 season with the Shore Conference Central Division championship in their sights and they hope to host a Shore Conference Tournament game and a state tournament contest.
Coach Matt Inzerillo believes those goals are attainable for his Manalapan squad this winter.
“We want to compete for the division title. We are focusing on taking things one game at a time and trying to win each division game we can,” he said
Inzerillo is entering his 12th year with the program and his sixth as head coach. Last season’s 12 victories were the most the Braves have won under Inzerillo since he became the team’s head coach.
Manalapan graduated last year’s senior captains Christian Pietromonaco (forward), John Fox (goalie) and Richard Williams (defenseman) and will seek to replace those stalwarts.
Inzerillo said the 2022-23 team will look to captains James Stevens, a junior, and Anthony Archinaco, a senior, to set the tone with their leadership. Both play on defense and will provide a strong pairing on the back line.
“Our core (strength) will be on defense,” Inzerillo said. “We take a lot of pride on the back line to clog the lanes and to get our offense going in transition.”
Going into the season, seniors Luke Mann and Jared Sturm are competing to replace Fox between the pipes. Fox was a four-year letterman in net and made 455 saves in his final season.
The team’s top returning scorer is junior Josh Kushnir, who scored 11 goals and added 14 assists in 2021-22.
Sophomore Nicholas Fanizza, and juniors Jake Bender, Alfred Piscino and Daniel Yakub have returned with varsity experience and will help the offensive attack.
Fanizza, Bender and Piscino each scored four goals last season, while Yakub dished out nine assists.
Senior Joseph Lombardo is another returning player who will boost the offense. Lombardo scored two goals and added three assists during the 2021-22 campaign.
A key newcomer is junior Michael Schmelzer, who has transferred to Manalapan from Christian Brothers Academy, Lincroft.
Two years ago as a freshman, Schmelzer scored four goals and added two assists for CBA. He did not play as a sophomore.
Inzerillo said Schmelzer has fit right into the Braves’ “family culture” and the coach said he will be used in many different roles this season.
“He is a very versatile player who can do it all. He is going to play on our top line and we will use him on our other lines if we need a spark,” Inzerillo said.
The Braves prepared themselves for the regular season by facing defending NJSIAA Public C state champion Governor Livingston and Paramus Catholic during their two preseason scrimmages.
Inzerillo said he liked what he saw on the ice from his players during the preseason and believes the team has a good mindset heading into regular season play.
“These boys want (Manalapan) to keep earning respect from the Shore Conference and the state. They want to be a household name,” the coach said.
Manalapan will open the 2022-23 campaign on Dec. 9 against the Marlboro-Holmdel co-op team at Jersey Shore Arena in Wall Township.