Kinnelon-Sparta-Jefferson 2021 preview: How will new tri-op fare?

KINNELON-SPARTA-JEFFERSON (KSJ UNITED)

Coach: Jeff Myhren, 16th year coaching Kinnelon. 167-139-36 career record.

Division: Halvorsen

Last year: This is the first year of the new KSJ United tri-op. Last year, as separate programs, Sparta-Jefferson and Kinnelon finished fifth and sixth in the Halvorsen Division, respectively. Kinnelon finished 2-13-3, while Sparta-Jefferson finished 4-12-3.

Key losses: Logan Hanek (Sparta-Jefferson), G. Alex Cohen (Sparta-Jefferson), F. Mike Schmidt (Sparta-Jefferson), D. Tim Hausler (Kinnelon), F. Hayden Hishmeh (Kinnelon), D. Connor LaPenna (Kinnelon), F. Jared Fatzer (Kinnelon), D. Chris Kosco (Kinnelon), D. Jake Bryja (Kinnelon), F/D.

This year’s squad: KSJ United’s inaugural year should include a nice balance of players from last year’s teams. Up front, KSJ will be led by Sparta-Jefferson senior forwards James Battaglia (12 g., 5 a.), Matthew Francescutto (10 g., 15 a.), and Kyle Sutton (12 g., 14 a.).

On defense, Kinnelon junior Mitchell Fradkin is expected to play a big role. But without question, the strength of this team will be in goal, where Kinnelon’s Brett Lewis figures to be one of, if not the top netminder in the Halvorsen Division. Lewis was a bright spot for Kinnelon during a difficult 2019-20 season, where he took home First Team All-Halvorsen Division honors while posting a .907 save percentage.

Outlook: KSJ is without question the biggest unknown of any of the teams in this division going into this season, simply because this will be a group of players that were playing against each other a year ago and will now have a little under two weeks of practice together prior to their first game. But there are certainly some promising pieces on this team, beginning with Lewis in goal, as well as the forward trio from Sparta-Jefferson. Depth should also be a strong suit, especially with both programs facing declining participation numbers in recent years, with Sparta-Jefferson specifically having a roster of just 11 players last year. This team should get better as the season goes along, and while its unknown just how good it will be, there are some nice foundational pieces to build around.

2021 SCHEDULE

Jan. 15 — Mendham (Skylands Ice World), 4:40 p.m.

Jan. 18 — Chatham (Mennen Arena), 10:30 a.m.

Jan. 22 — Roxbury (Skylands Ice World), 4:40 p.m.

Jan. 26 — Mendham (Mennen Arena), 8 p.m.

Jan. 29 — Madison (Skylands Ice World), 4:40 p.m.

Feb. 1 — Pope John (Skylands Ice World), 3 p.m.

Feb. 5 — Madison (Mennen Arena), 5:45 p.m.

Feb. 8 — Roxbury (Mennen Arena), 6:30 p.m.

Feb. 12 — Montville (Mennen Arena), 5:45 p.m.

Feb. 19 — Montville (Skylands Ice World), 4:40 p.m.

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