The Verona-Glen Ridge players welcomed the move up to the N.J. Interscholastic Ice Hockey League’s McInnis Division this season after capturing the Kelly Cup last winter during a memorable 21-5-3 campaign.
The fact that the rigors of competing each night in the McInnis Division are never ending is simply part and parcel of what the Verona-Glen Ridge icemen relish.
“Our kids love it!” said Verona-Glen Ridge head coach Ken Lilien, who has been part of a solid 3-member staff the past 11 seasons along with Steve Ruggiero and Max Thiele. “In my 15 years in high school coaching the McInnis Division this season is as good as any public-school conference I’ve seen and I believe that it’s is stronger than the (Morris County’s) Mennen Conference which a lot of hockey people like to say has the best public-school programs each year.
“There have been what, nine ties in our division battles this season, we have state-ranked teams in (No. 10) Governor Livingston, (No. 16) West Essex-Caldwell and (No. 17) Summit, and everyone else is a handful as well.
“In our first game with GL, when we lost 3-2, it was a tie game with a minute to play, and we beat West Essex (5-4, Jan. 13).
“Every game in this division is a war and the players thrive on the great competition.
“As far as the McInnis Cup playoffs are concerned, I don’t believe the seedings are going to matter much and it’s simply going to come down to who’s hot during those playoffs.”
The McInnis Cup, won last year by Westfield over Livingston, seeds its field next week and the action will heat up with quarterfinals by Feb. 10 and the semis on Feb. 13 followed by the championship game, 8:15 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 15, at the Richard J. Codey Arena.
Verona-Glen Ridge (6-6-3, 2-5-3), which fell to GL, 7-3, Monday night, at Warinanco Rink in Roselle, continues to boast some of the best players in the McInnis Division in high-scoring senior forwards Rowan Brennan (21 goals, 10 assists) and Will Benson (7 goals, 17 assists). Brennan, who had 54 goals as a junior, entered Monday night’s game vs. GL with 106 career goals along with 56 assists for 162 points.
Benson has 39 goals and 66 assists for 105 points in his own superb ice hockey career.
A junior, Pyotr Sysak (4 goals, 11 assists) is among the other standouts to watch for Verona-Glen Ridge which also has an outstanding goaltender in senior Eli Gottlieb who is closing in on 1,000 career saves.
Verona-Glen Ridge’s rather challenging remaining regular season schedule continues 4:10 p.m., Friday, Feb. 3, with another game at Warinanco Rink, this time vs. Summit (7-5-6, 1-4-5), followed by a second local showdown vs. West Essex-Caldwell (11-3-2, 7-2-1) 7:30 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 5, at the Codey Arena.
West Essex-Caldwell, under the guidance of coach Marc Gregory, is led by forwards Clayton Prial (16 goals, 17 assists), Luca Infusino (9 and 7) and Patrick Dempsey (9 and 10). Sophomore goaltender Evan Zieminski (395 saves) has also been superb.