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Defending McMullen Cup playoff champion West Orange, with veteran performers such as junior captain Dominic Locricchio (top photo), is one team to watch once again in the division, while looking to record second straight winning season in 2023-2024. (Photos by WOHS sports media)

West Orange Looks To Build
On Its McMullen Cup Crown

By Max Shadow

WEST ORANGE- The regular season vs. Scotch Plains did not go very well for West Orange last winter; however, following two losses to the Union County team the Mountaineers pulled off a major triumph in the McMullen Cup final, upsetting the top-seeded Raiders, 3-2, to capture a playoff crown.

It’s been a gradual ascension for West Orange, which posted its first winning season in 11 years with a 13-8-1 record (7-3 in the McMullen Division) in 2022-2023, and finished strong within the New Jersey Interscholastic Ice Hockey League despite then falling to a very good Ridge squad, 11-1, in the first round of the NJSIAA Public A state tournament.

Veteran coach Eddie Scafidi remains very confident about the positive trend of the Mountaineers, and despite graduating their top scorer in Jack Olsen (28 goals, 22 assists in 2022-2023), steady Andrew Raman (10 goals, 15 assists) and starting goaltender Jackson Pruksarmukul (511 saves. 892 save %), there is plenty of talent back on board to make the Essex County team one to watch once again in the McMullen regular season title chase.

The new season gets underway with two straight home games, 5:45 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 9, vs. Watchung Hills, and 6:30 p.m., Friday, Dec. 15, vs. Johnson, both at the Richard J. Codey Arena.

The Mountaineers are also slated to face Scotch Plains, 4 p.m., Monday, Dec. 18, in the first round of a holiday tournament.

The Raiders, who were a perfect 10-0 in the McMullen Division during the regular season last winter, have now moved up into the Kelly Division (see all of the NJIIHL divisional alignment for 2023-2024 below).

It’s been a strong start to the pre-season workouts for West Orange hockey.

“Our players are radiating energy and the vibe is electric,” said Scafidi. “They’re hungry for victories and that hunger is contagious.

“We’re not here to play small. We’re eyeing the conference crown, looking to dominate the holiday tournament, defend our McMullen Cup championship, and secure a spot in the state tournament.

“It’s an ambitious agenda but we’re up for the challenge!”

Among the top returnees are juniors Dominic Locricchio (17 goals, 16 assists in 2022-2023) and Reid Tenzer (8 goals, 14 assists).

Locricchio, who now wears the captain’s badge, is not just a skillfull player, but is a natural leader.

“Dominic’s leadership is as fierce as his wrist shot,” said Scafidi. “He sets a great example with his tremendous work ethic.”

Junior Christian Anderton (127 saves in 2022-2023), who was a capable backup to Pruksarmukul last season, is back to compete for time in goal along with Anthony Pondillo.

“They’re the guardians of our victory,” added Scafidi. “And, we have full confidence in their abilities.”

The roster also features emerging talents in sophomore Lukas Ahmadi and Andrew Ruffo along with Pete Stephens, who is a strong, veteran leader along with fellow senior Nathan Rubinstein.

“Pete and Nathan set the tone, both on and off the ice,” said Scafidi. “Their influence is our secret weapon and we’re banking on their leadership to propel us forward.”

Fresh blood has been injected into the lineup with youngsters such as Gabe Melendez, Justin Anderton, Michael Sandels and Guilherme Sitorski.

“These rookies are not here to watch, they’re here to play,” said Scafidi. ”Keep an eye on their debut because they’re adding a fresh dynamic to the team.”

While there are key veterans to count on, the combination with a very promising group of underclassmen could translate into a wide-ranging number of contributors for the Mountaineers this season.

“No more reliance on a few stars,” said Scafidi. “We’re a balanced force which is a departure from previous top-heavy set-ups.

“Our challenge? A green defense; but, hey, the challenges are what make champions, and we’re ready to tackle the season head on.

“Last season’s McMullen Cup championship and a taste of the state tournament, that’s history. Now we’re eyeing a higher seed and rewriting the record books!”

2023-2024 NJIIHL Alignment:
Gordon (American):
CBA, Delbarton, Don Bosco Prep, Gloucester Catholic, Princeton Day School and St. Augustine Prep

Gordon (National):
Bergen Catholic, Pope John, Seton Hall Prep, St. Peter’s Prep and St. Joe’s (Mont.)

Cranford, Governor Livingston/New Providence, Livingston, MKA, Summit, West Essex/Caldwell and Westfield

Frisch School, Glen Rock, Montclair, Nutley/Columbia/Bloomfield, Oratory Prep, Scotch Plains and Verona/Glen Ridge

Bayonne/Belleville, Hoboken/Weehawken, Johnson/Brearley, Kearny/Secaucus/North Arlington, Millburn and West Orange

Librera (Girls):
Immaculate Heart, Morristown-Beard, Oak Knoll, Pingry and Princeton Day School

Cohen (Girls):
Chatham/Millburn, Kent Place, Summit, Trinity Hall and Randolph

Annis (Girls):
Cranford, Newark East Side, Madison, Princeton and Westfield         

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West Orange is busy getting ready for the upcoming 2023-2024 season with promising roster ready to do battle again in the McMullen Division.

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