The Lyndhurst/Paramus/Hackensack hockey co-operative had a great season a year ago, winning 12 games thanks to the stellar goaltending of Anthony Berko, who was one of the top net minders in the entire state last season.
But the program lost a lot of players like Berko to graduation and it means coach Denis Jelcic, who also doubles as the head soccer coach at Lyndhurst, has to basically rebuild his roster as the season begins this week.
“We lost a little bit of grit and a little bit of skill,” Jelcic said. “No question, Berko was a game changer, a high-end varsity goalie. It’s hard to lose a senior goalie like that.”
But Jelcic still has high hopes and aspirations for the coming season.
“We have a lot of returnees,” Jelcic said. “We also have some talented newcomers. We’re not as deep as we were, but we have some pieces that have to fall into place.”
Of the co-op’s roster, most of the players attend Paramus High School. But there are eight players from Lyndhurst, including two of the team’s captains.
The two players set to replace Berko in goal are both from Paramus and both are sophomores in Jack Costanzo and Matt Novotny.
“They’re both solid goalkeepers,” Jelcic said. “They’re competing for playing time and may rotate.”
Senior Tyler McDowell, a Lyndhurst native, is one of the team’s top defensemen. McDowell is also one of the team’s captains.
“He’s a very good skater,” Jelcic said. “He has a lot of skill. He’s very gritty and knows what’s going on.”
Senior Justin Kuzak is a defenseman from Hackensack and sophomores Michal Piccinich and Alex Sendecki are from Paramus.
The team’s top forward is senior Anton Safonov, whom Jelcic believes is so talented that he could be an NCAA Division I prospect.
The top Lyndhurst forward is senior Jake McCann, who was a goalkeeper for Jelcic on the soccer pitch in the fall.
“He’s a gritty hard worker,” Jelcic said of McCann. “He’s almost like (former New York Rangers captain) Ryan Callahan. He puts it all on the line. He was a vocal leader for our soccer team and he’s the same way on the ice. It’s a lot easier in hockey. There’s a lot of discussion about everything that goes on. He leads by example. He’s very consistent. He’s always there early and that just makes things easier for me.”
Other top forwards are Paramus students Joey Moran and Brandt Rohdieck. Moran is a senior, Rohdieck is a junior.
Sophomore Kai Barbara is another top forward. Barbara is also from Paramus.
Sophomore Jake Renzi is a Lyndhurst native who plays football for the Golden Bears in the fall.
“He’s a rugged forward,” Jelcic said of Renzi. “He’s a little more physical. He scored a little for us last year and he could have a better year this year. He creates a lot and also mixes it up physically. I’ll put him on the line with Safonov and he’ll get a lot of chances.”
Senior Kyle Henning is another Lyndhurst product who should see a lot of ice time this season.
“He played a little bit last year,” Jelcic said of Henning. “He’s a big, strong forward. He’s using his body better and become more physical. That’s a big thing for him.”
Other Lyndhurst products that will get playing time is sophomore forward Aidan McCann, Jake’s little brother.
“His interest level is higher,” Jelcic said of the younger McCann. “He’s looking to make an impact this year.”
Junior Daniel Gozdek is another forward from Lyndhurst.
“He improved a lot in the offseason,” Jelcic said. “He’s a better skater and should be more involved.”
Junior A.J. Branco and Matt Anthony are two Lyndhurst products vying for playing time.
“There’s promise,” Jelcic said. “It’s a year of opportunity. We have a young team. These young kids can step up and play.”
But it has been difficult not being able to get indoors for practice until last week, when New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy lifted the restrictions on indoor activities.
“I think right now it has hurt everyone,” Jelcic said of the late start. “It certainly hurts a young team like ours. We needed ice time. I have an idea who is going to play, but it’s been tough. We have only been on the ice a few times. We started off rough, but to have any hockey this year is a blessing with the COVID (coronavirus).”
The season has also been limited to 15 games due to the coronavirus.
But it all begins for the co-op Saturday Jan. 16, when they face Tenafly at the Ice House in Hackensack.
“I just want our seniors to have a great year,” Jelcic said.
And keep the winning tradition alive.
The Lyndhurst/Paramus/Hackensack hockey co-operative will begin their 2021 season Saturday against Tenafly. Pictured here are the Lyndhurst players. Front row, from left, are Matt Anthony and Aidan McCann. Back row, from left, are A.J. Branco, Jake Renzi, Jake McCann, Tyler McDowell, Daniel Gozdek and head coach Denis Jelcic. Photo by Jim Hague
The Lyndhurst/Paramus/Hackensack hockey co-op features captains Jake McCann (left) and Tyler McDowell (right) from Lyndhurst. Photo by Jim Hague
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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.”