A year ago, there weren’t a lot of people outside of the Kearny/North Arlington/Secaucus high school hockey cooperative that had hopes of the new fangled triumvirate would actually be successful.
After all, it’s very hard to throw kids together from three different high schools, expect them to instantly like each other, immediately listen to instruction and then, lo and behold, try to win more than a handful of games.
But that’s what the co-op did a year ago, getting together for its first year of competitive hockey in the McMullen Cup division and post an 8-6-2 record on the varsity level.
The Kardinals went to the NJSIAA state playoffs and defeated West Orange in the first round before falling to perennial state contender Johnson Regional in the second round. Johnson Regional went on to capture the overall Public School B Division state title.
While a lot of people might have been shocked by the team’s performance in its first year of varsity hockey, head coach Tim Firth was not.
“Last year was not a surprise in my eyes,” said Firth, a Kearny High School teacher. “I thought we were ready to go. We had a good core group of kids who made their varsity debuts. We had depth and discipline. We did have four full lines to rely on. If someone went down, we had someone else to call upon. I thought that became a real important part of our team.”
Now, as the team approaches Year Two, the Kardinals have had to rely on land workouts.
“We can’t get on the ice that often,” Firth said. “So a lot of our work comes on dry land sessions. It helps having North Arlington right next door. It’s also a great way for the kids to get to know one another. It leads to a deeper team bond. It also helps in the social aspect of the team. The kids all hang out together during workouts.”
So needless to say, the camaraderie helps to lead to team unity.
“I really get a good feel of how they are supposed to act as a team,” Firth said. “Again, it helps that the two schools are so close to each other (geographically).”
The coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic did cause some concerns for the coming season.
“We were still booking games and still booking workouts,” Firth said. “But November turned into December and then December turned into January. We had to wait until we could actually have real workouts.”
The NJSIAA allowed ice hockey to begin official workouts last week.
“We basically had one week to pick the team and then go from there,” Firth said. “It’s all good news. We’re ready to go.”
The Kearny team will begin play in the 2021 season against West Orange on Jan. 15 at Buchmiller Park in Secaucus.
Kearny lost five seniors from last year’s team, but there is still a solid nucleus returning from a year ago.
The team has depth at goalkeeper, with Kearny senior Dominic Orrico leading the way. Orrico has the most amount of experience.
“He had a fantastic season last year,” Firth said. “He leads by example. He’s an incredibly hard worker and he’s incredibly fit. He’s a good strong willed goalkeeper.”
Senior Richie Robinson of Secaucus is the team’s other net minder.
“He takes it very seriously,” Firth said. “He is always focused and gets the job done.”
Sophomore Morgan Iachetta and junior Jack Logue, both of whom are from Kearny, give the team depth between the pipes.
Logue will move out of the net this season and help out the defensemen.
“He’s one of our better skaters,” Firth said. “He’s been playing hockey his whole life. He has the ability to skate.”
The team also has three freshmen defensemen from North Arlington in Joe Crawford, Kevin Zidiak and Cory Wadleigh. All three played youth hockey together with the Secaucus Patriots’ youth travel team.
“I feel good about our young defensemen,” Firth said.
Senior Sean Moloughney is another key defenseman.
“He’s probably the most experienced player on the team,” Firth said.
The forward lines feature freshman Chris Crawford of North Arlington. Chris is the twin brother of defenseman Joe.
The team’s captains are seniors Conor MacConchie and Owen O’Callaghan. MacConchie is also a solid pitcher on the Kearny High baseball team.
“Conor is a leader on the ice,” Firth said. “I anticipate him to take a big step up this year. Owen was one of our top scorers last year. Those two were on the same line, but there’s a chance they would be anchoring two separate lines this year.”
Sophomore Owen Logue, Jack’s brother, is another talented forward.
“I anticipate Owen being bigger and stronger this year,” Firth said.
Junior Sam Francisco is another forward.
“He’s worked his way into the lineup with his heady play,” Firth said. “He’s very smart. I expect him to continue that trajectory and become an important player for us.”
Seniors Jason Gyuro and Nick Solinski are both veteran players.
“Both have been with us since they were freshmen,” Firth said. “They both provide a big, physical presence. They’re a good shut down duo up front.”
Sophomore Joe Drefko improved greatly last season and got playing time.
“I’m looking for him to continue to grow from last year and move his way up,” Firth said. “He comes from a good hockey family. He’s going to be a big part of the team.”
Junior Stephen Paolazzi from North Arlington missed all of last season due to a back injury.
“We’re excited to have him back,” Firth said. “He’s a good kid who gives us lots of effort. I have high hopes for him.”
Needless to say, the Kardinals will be in the mix for a playoff spot in the McMullen Division.
“I’m excited to see what this group can do,” Firth said. “I think we can hang with all the teams in our division. I think we can grow on last year.”
The Kearny/North Arlington/Secaucus co-operative program features nine players who hail from Kearny. Front row, from left, are Dan Alves, Owen Logue, Dominick Orrico, Jack Logue and Jacqueline Narucki. Back row, from left, are assistant coach Megan Neer, head coach Tim Firth, Conor MacConchie, Joseph Drefko, Nicholas Solinski, Patrick Waters, Owen O’Callaghan, Greg Drefko and Jason Gyuro. Photo by Jim Hague
Learn more about the writer ...
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.”