Pope John 2021 preview: Young Lions look to be competitive in Gordon Conference

POPE JOHN LIONS

Head coach: Ryan Brown, 14th year. 174-105-33 career record.

Division: Gordon Conference

Last year: Pope John finished with a 6-18-1 overall record, and saw its season end in the quarterfinals of both the Gordon Cup and the Non-Public state tournament.

Key losses: Alex Blaszak, F.

This year’s squad: Pope John will look to improve upon a very difficult 2019-20 season, in which it won just one game in the Gordon Conference. It will do so with a very young squad, which Brown says includes a total of 20 freshman and sophomores.

It will receive some scoring punch from junior forward Lucas Buchanan (11 g., 17 a.), as well as sophomore forward Scott Vanderhoff (4 g., 8 a.). Both put together solid campaigns last year and figure to improve even more this season. They’ll be joined at forward by sophomore Nathan Meola, a transfer from West Morris who posted 9 goals and 10 assists as a freshman for the Wolfpack last year. Look for freshmen Robbie Myshkoff and Matt Hughes to also play a big role up front.

Defensively, sophomores Jack Kelmer and Brandan Young will lead the way, with freshmen Jake Stevens and Declan Murphy expected to play big minutes as well.

In goal, sophomore Tyler Paluzzi will be the starter after seeing limited time as a freshman, which included starts in both of the team’s state tournament games.

Outlook: The thing that jumps out when evaluating this team is just how young it is. With 20 freshmen and sophomores, this is going to be a team that while talented, is going to be challenged in the toughest conference in the state, which includes the likes of top teams such as Don Bosco Prep, Bergen Catholic, Delbarton, and reigning state champion Christian Brothers, among others. It may end up being a bit of a rebuilding year for this team, but if its young players can adapt quickly and can hang tough against some of the top teams in the state, then it could pay dividends for this team in the coming years as it continues to develop. Brown’s teams over the years have characteristically been a tough out, and this squad should live up to that.

2021 SCHEDULE

Jan. 15 — St. Augustine (Skylands Ice World), 8 p.m.

Jan. 18 — Northern Highlands (Skylands Ice World), 8:40 p.m.

Jan. 20 — Seton Hall Prep (Codey Arena, West Orange), 4 p.m.

Jan. 22 — Delbarton (Skylands Ice World), 8 p.m.

Jan. 25 — Gloucester Catholic (Hollydell Ice Arena), 3:30 p.m.

Jan. 27 — St. Joseph of Metuchen (Woodbridge Community Center), 6:45 p.m.

Jan. 29 — St. Joseph of Montvale (Skylands Ice World), 8 p.m.

Feb. 1 — Kinnelon-Sparta-Jefferson (Skylands Ice World), 3 p.m.

Feb. 3 — Christian Brothers (Jersey Shore Arena), 4:45 p.m.

Feb. 5 — St. Peter’s Prep (Gordon Conference), 8 p.m.

Feb. 11 — Don Bosco Prep (Gordon Conference), 4:45 p.m.

Feb. 12 — Newton-Lenape Valley (Skylands Ice World), 8 p.m.

Feb. 19 — Bergen Catholic (Skylands Ice World), 8 p.m.

Feb. 26 — St. Joseph of Montvale (Skylands Ice World), 8 p.m.

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