One team, three schools, three names on sweaters

Eight Lyndhurst hockey players and coach remain dedicated to one goal

Photo courtesy Denis Jelcic The three-school cooperative known as Lyndhurst/Hackensack/Paramus hockey has enjoyed a great amount of success this season, winning nine games. Here are the Lyndhurst members of that team. Front row, from l., are Nick Carnevale, Josh Anderson and Tim Meglio. Back row, from l., are C.J. Anderson, Evan Kelly, Matt Tomko, Kyle Bouteloupt and Sean Leonard.
Photo courtesy Denis Jelcic
The three-school cooperative known as Lyndhurst/Hackensack/Paramus hockey has enjoyed a great amount of success
this season, winning nine games. Here are the Lyndhurst members of that team. Front row, from l., are Nick Carnevale, Josh Anderson and Tim Meglio. Back row, from l., are C.J. Anderson, Evan Kelly, Matt Tomko, Kyle Bouteloupt and Sean Leonard.

It’s definitely the most unique athletic team in New Jersey.

There are three schools that comprise the hockey cooperative that includes Lyndhurst High. Students from Hackensack and Paramus also make up the triumvirate that is Lyndhurst-Paramus-Hackensack hockey, the only one of its kind in New Jersey scholastic sports.

It’s so bizarre that the kids from Lyndhurst have Lyndhurst on their playing sweaters. The same goes for the kids from Hackensack and Paramus. There are not enough players from each school to form a team on their own, so they let everyone know where they’re from and what schools they attend right across their chests, forming an alliance that doesn’t even work geographically.

Sure, Hackensack and Paramus are somewhat close to each other on the map, but Lyndhurst? In terms of New Jersey high schools, where archrivals sit almost on top of each other, Lyndhurst is located in a positively different dimension and zone.

So this one-of-a-kind hockey team is officially known as Lyndhurst-Paramus-Hackensack. Or perhaps slashes where the dashes go, like Lyndhurst/ Paramus/Hackensack. They’re the Golden Bear Comet Spartans – or something like that.

“They love hockey and they love their towns and districts,” said head coach Denis Jelcic, who is mostly associated with Lyndhurst, because Jelcic is also the head boys’ soccer coach at Lyndhurst. “They use the different colors associated with each school. I’m very happy with where they’re at. They’re all having a good time.”

Winning also helps the situation as well. The conglomerate on ice has a 9-5-1 record thus far this season, after beating Pequannock, 10-0, and Montville, 7-2 last week while falling to perennial Morris County power Jefferson, 8-4.

How much has the team improved over a year ago? Well, considering the Golden Bear Comet Spartans were 4-18-2 a season ago, it’s safe to say that the co-op is working quite well.

The team qualified for the Bergen County Tournament and faced Ridgewood in the opening round, suffering a 5-1 setback.

The team also has a 4-2-1 record in the Big North Conference- Freedom Division, which is good for fourth place overall in a division headed by state power St. Joseph of Montvale.

Jelcic said that in 2012, there was a groundswell from kids in Lyndhurst who wanted to place ice hockey. A good number of kids were participating in the Lyndhurst Roller Hockey League, headed by Chris Sofio, and went to Sofio to ask if whether they could give ice hockey a try.

At the time, Frank “Butch” Servideo was the athletic director at Lyndhurst and he liked the idea to turn ice hockey into a varsity sport.

“He thought we should look into the idea,” said Jelcic, who was involved with the roller hockey program.

Lyndhurst had about 25 kids who were interested in playing hockey, but a good portion of those players weren’t strong enough ice hockey players to form a varsity squad on their own.

Jelcic had a friend, Kevin Moran, who had the same problem in Hackensack. They had kids interested in playing, but not enough to form a competitive varsity squad.

At the time, several schools were forming cooperative programs in order to field teams. The co-op had become an option in other sports like soccer, wrestling and even football in some cases. Palisades Park and Leonia had a football cooperative for a few years, before going their own separate ways two seasons ago.

Then, Paramus started to have difficulty fielding enough varsity players. The Paramus people wanted to join the Lyndhurst and Hackensack marriage, using the Ice House in Hackensack as the home rink for the team.

“We originally thought having three might be a problem, but the three athletic directors (Jeff Radigan in Lyndhurst, Dave Petrella in Hackensack and Don Roll in Paramus) have been instrumental in getting it done,” Jelcic said. “It took a longer time than I thought it would. They worked on the three districts getting a bus to get the kids to and from the Ice House. The Board of Education in Lyndhurst voted for it.”

More importantly, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, the state’s governing body, signed off on the cooperative, giving an approval for the first three-time co-op of its kind.

Lyndhurst was first part of the marriage last year. Three kids played on the team. That number has grown to eight this year – seven on the varsity, one on junior varsity.

And the numbers might even grow more next year.

“We have over 100 kids in sixth, seventh and eighth grades playing youth hockey somewhere,” Jelcic said. “Kids now know that they can go to Lyndhurst High School and play hockey. One player transferred back to Lyndhurst from Paramus Catholic because he wanted to play baseball with his friends. The program is growing immensely.”

Sure, the winning helps, but it’s not the only thing going on with the team.

“Our main focus is getting the kids together and making sure they have a good time,” Jelcic said. “The kids are having a good time. The camaraderie is there. They like being together.”

And it’s not the Lyndhurst kids in one corner, the Hackensack kids and the Paramus kids in another.

“They’re all together,” Jelcic said. “They hang out together and do things together.”

It’s kids from three different schools all getting together for one cause. It’s a novel approach that is working. The team has posted a 6-2-1 record over their last

“They’re coming together and playing well,” said Jelcic, noting that Montville had defeated Lyndhurst/Hackensack/ Paramus earlier this season, but the team came back to win last week.

And the Lyndhurst kids are contributing in a big way.

Senior Evan Kelly has been a captain on the team for two years. Kelly, who collected the 100th point of his career last week, has scored 17 goals and tallied 24 assists this season. He had three goals and an assist in the win over Pequannock.

“He’s a great leader and an all-around great kid,” Jelcic said of Kelly, who also plays baseball in the spring. “He works hard on and off the ice. All Lyndhurst hockey players should be like Evan. All the other kids in town see Evan and what he does. We’re all going to miss Evan when he graduates.”

Junior Nick Carnevale is another top-flight goal scorer from Lyndhurst. He’s the one who transferred back into the district from Paramus Catholic. Carnevale has 17 goals in just seven games after he became eligible after sitting out due to the NJSIAA transfer rules.

“He’s given us a huge lift after the new year,” Jelcic said of Carnevale, who scored two goals in the win over Pequannock.

Senior defenseman C.J. Anderson has been a mainstay on the team. Anderson, who has two goals and 10 assists this season, three of those dimes coming against Pequannock, has a special place in the coach’s heart.

“I’ve known him since he was five years old,” Jelcic said. “He’s developed into one of the top three defensemen on the team. He’s a smart player who doesn’t try to do too much. He goes all out and works hard. He’s progressed so much as a player and he’s becoming an amazing hockey player.”

C.J.’s younger brother Josh is a sophomore who does all the little things.

“He’s one who goes into the corners to get the puck,” Jelcic said. “He also hits everything in sight. He’s a tough, hardnosed player who plays hard.”

Freshman Sean Leonard has been a major addition to the team, collecting 12 goals and adding 13 assists.

“He’s a play maker,” Jelcic said. “He has zero hesitation and goes after the puck. He’s one of the top freshman players in the Big North Conference.”

Fellow freshman Kyle Bouteloupt is another hard worker.

“He’s a smart player and a naturally born skater,” Jelcic said. “He comes excited to play and ready to play. He’s also very multi-changeable and goes wherever he’s needed.”

Sophomore Matt Tomko has been moved from a winger to center this season.

“That was the best decision we made,” Jelcic said. “Moving him to center is a big reason why we’re at where we’re at this season.”

Winger Tim Meglio is on the junior varsity squad.

“It’s his first year playing ice hockey,” Jelcic said. “He’s also a soccer player for us. He’s still picking up the sport. He needs to know where he’s skating.”

Needless to say, it’s been a great turnaround for the team with three names. It should be interesting to see what the rest of the year brings – and what the future of the program brings as well.

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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer

Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.

It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.

In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.

In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.

He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.

During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.

Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”