It’s the sixth year that Denis Jelcic has coached the hockey cooperative team from three schools, namely Lyndhurst, Paramus and Hackensack High Schools, and the coach is more pumped for the start of a new campaign than ever before.
“I’m excited to start the hockey season,” said Jelcic, who spent the fall months as the head boys’ soccer coach at Lyndhurst. “I love the makeup of this team. They’re fun to be around and easy to manage. They’re receptive to everything we’re doing. They’re on board with everything we’re trying. The goals are the same.”
Jelcic has to juggle 13 kids from Lyndhurst, 14 from Paramus and three from Hackensack. It’s not an easy chore to get everyone together for practices and off-ice workouts, but Jelcic manages to do it, with the help of coaches and athletic directors at each school.
“The coaches we have at each school make it so much easier for me,” Jelcic said. “After six years, we’re so good at it now. It’s almost down to a science.”
The co-op finished 6-12-2 last season, but they’re off to a 1-1 start this season, after defeating Clifton, 6-1, to start the season on Saturday, then falling to Northern Highlands, 7-1, on Sunday.
“I expect us to be considerably better this year, like .500 or better,” Jelcic said. “We should be better enough to make the state playoffs.”
Jelcic was asked what the key ingredient would be for the team to qualify for the state playoffs.
“Consistency is the key,” Jelcic said. “We need the maturity to stick to the game plan. We’re not worried about the other team. We’re not worried about who we’re playing. We’re more concerned with ourselves. There are a lot of good teams out there and we’re facing two to start the season. We also face teams like Tenafly and Pascack Valley. They’re all playoff teams. That’s what we want to become.”
Jelcic was certain that improvement was on the horizon.
“I’ve seen a lot of positive energy so far,” Jelcic said. “I’ve seen good cohesiveness. We have players who are contributing to everyone’s success. There’s a lot of positivity. The kids are all excited to be here. That’s a good feeling.”
Leading the Lyndhurst contingent is senior forward Matt Tomko.
“He’s one of our captains,” Jelcic said. “He’s a hard-nosed, tough kid. He’s gritty. He goes into the corners for loose pucks and hits everything in sight. He’s more of a checker than a scorer.”
Junior center Sean Leonard is another key player from Lyndhurst.
“Sean is a very smart player,” Jelcic said. “He’s very educated in his position. He makes good decisions with the puck. A lot of what we do goes through him.”
Leonard had one assist in the win over Clifton.
Junior Kyle Bouteloupt is a defenseman who played forward last year.
“Kyle tried playing defense during his travel hockey season and he liked it,” Jelcic said. “He also played well there, so he stayed there. He wanted to help our defensive back line. He picked it up pretty quickly.”
Bouteloupt had a goal in the win over Clifton.
Senior Josh Anderson is a former defenseman who has moved to the forward line.
“He’s another gritty, hard-nosed player,” Jelcic said. “He fore checks well. He goes to get the puck and puts in goals sometimes.”
Sophomore Anthony Oddo is a transfer from Roselle Park, which does not have hockey.
“He has played a lot of travel hockey, so he has experience,” Jelcic said. “He’s a quick, speedy skilled winger.”
Freshman Tyler McDowall is a strong defenseman.
“He skates real well,” Jelcic said. “He’s going to be a force to be reckoned with. He’s still growing into his body.”
Senior Zach Baker is another solid defenseman from Hackensack.
“He’s really carrying the play well,” Jelcic said of Baker, who is one of the team’s captains. “He’s crucial on our power play and penalty kill,” Jelcic said. “I like his versatility.”
Senior Zach Matesic is one of the top players from Paramus. Matesic had two goals and three assists over the first weekend of the season.
“He’s a playmaker,” Jelcic said. “He gets the puck to the net. He’s definitely a leader on the team, a solid, skilled player for us.”
Sophomore Ryan Oechsner is another key contributor from Paramus.
“He’s one of our top players,” Jelcic said of the center Oechsner, who had a goal and two assists over the opening weekend. “He makes plays and can score goals. He’s smart with the puck.”
J.J. Reveille is a junior defenseman from Paramus who is a physical player.
“He’s reckless,” Jelcic said of Reveille. “He hits everything that comes in front of our net.”
Reveille had an assist in the win over Clifton.
Anton Safonov is another player who started the season well, scoring two goals and adding an assist in the win over Clifton.
The Lyndhurst/Paramus/Hackensack squad returns to action Friday night at 9:15 p.m. against Pascack Valley. There’s obviously no rest for the weary. This team is going to find out how competitive they can be from the outset.
“We’re getting a good test right away,” Jelcic said. “We’ll see how good we can do.”