Benkert’s offensive outburst sparks Nutley-Bloomfield-Columbia hockey

Alex Benkert has never been afraid to be creative on the ice in an effort to create more offensive chances for his team.

While that creativity made him one of the NJIIHL’s top offensive players, Benkert knew that it sometimes led to mistakes.

“I’m playing my role (better). I used to try to do things that weren’t really necessary,”  said Benkert, a junior left wing. “I’ve become much more structured. Coach (David Macri) helped me become more structured and he’s allowed for me to have my game progress because he’s brought structure to my game.”

The added structure combined with his offensive creativity not only have Benkert playing the best hockey of his high school career and the Nutley-Bloomfield-Columbia tri-op off to its best start in years.

On Dec. 20, Benkert struck for five goals and two assists in a 7-5 factory over Whippany Park, He then bettered that performance three days later when, against West Orange, Benkert had five goals and three assists.

Benkert’s offensive outburst and overall two-way play make him the first Observer Athlete of the Week for the winter sports season.

Benkert, who added two goals in a 4-2 loss to Montclair on Dec. 28, now has 16 goals and 12 assists on the season for a 4-5 Nutley team which has already matched last season’s win total.

“His focus and level of compete is just the best it’s been. It’s a function of just maturing and getting older and stronger,” said Macri, who has known Benkert since he was playing squirts as a 9-year-old. “He’s evolving into just a fantastic hockey player.”

Benkert, who also plays club hockey for the New Jersey Colonials 16U AAA team, said he models his game and in particular his offensive creativity after New York Islanders star forward Matthew Barzal, his favorite player.

“I love the way he plays. His skating is phenomenal and just the way he can the puck, you never know what he’s going to do with it. Just no idea, it’s insane,” said Benkert. “I love his creativity, I love his skating so I really try to model my game after him.”

Benkert also cites former Vancouver and Anaheim star Ryan Kesler as an influence, due to the way he played and got goals in front of the net.

“(Alex) is the type of kid that just wants to go out and play as much as he can and contribute to his team in any way that he can,” Macri said. “We’re very fortunate to have Alex and his mindset and talent set the tone for us.”

Macri has seen it especially take hold with Benkert’s linemates, sophomore center Christian Sherman and sophomore right winger Angelo Albanese. The trio has combined for 33 of Nutley’s 37 goals so far this season, their second together on the top line

“We were able to grow our game together,” said Benkert. “As the year progressed, and even this year, we began to just grow our chemistry to the point where we can find each other on the ice pretty much at any given moment when we’re clicking.”

“They’re starting to adopt some of the patience that you need to perform at a high level because not every play is a scoring opportunity right from the bat. Sometimes you need to work the puck a little bit, draw the team into a bad position and make a play that way,” Macri said. “The three of them are just far and away the best we have at doing it.”

With the 4-5 start, a potential spot in the state tournament is now in the sights of Benkert and Nutley. It’s been five years since Nutley has qualified for the tournament.

“I’d love to make states, that’d be a great, great experience. Not just for me, but for the team, to have a high sense of morale,” Benkert said. “I think it’d be great for the team, great for morale, great for the program.”

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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer

Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)