MORRIS-SUSSEX HOCKEY REPORT COACH OF THE YEAR: Brendon Herr, Chatham
It was almost unfathomable how long Chatham had gone without a Mennen Cup title.
The Cougars had last celebrated a title back in 1981, when it was Chatham Township high school. Factor in that Chatham was coming off its worst season in recent memory going into this season, it seemed like that drought might continue for another year.
But coach Brendon Herr‘s squad got out of the gates strong this year, going 7-0-1 in its first eight games- already surpassing last year’s five wins. It showed it could compete with the best of the best, and ended up claiming the program’s first Mennen Cup championship in 42 years when it defeated Randolph, 2-1 in overtime on Matt Nacinovich’s game-winner.
Herr is my pick for this year’s Morris-Sussex Hockey Report coach of the Year.
Herr, who just wrapped up his eighth season leading the Cougars, oversaw the turnaround of a program which had won just seven games between the COVID-shortened season in 2020-21 and an injury-plagued 2021-22 season.
The team played its best once the postseason rolled around, as it went 5-1 in postseason play with its only loss being a close 3-2 loss to Middletown North in the Public B final. It was Chatham’s third state finals appearance in Herr’s tenure, with his team previously reaching the title game in Public C in 2017-18 and 2018-19.
While the Mennen Cup win broke the long drought, arguably the team’s most impressive win came in the Public B semifinals against Northern Highlands. The Cougars were not only going up against what had been, to that point, the consensus top Public school team in the state, which had only one in-state loss all year, but they had to play that game without their top defender in Nikita Konevych.
But Herr and his staff put together an impressive defensive game plan, and the players executed it to perfection in an impressive 4-1 win at Codey Arena. Matt Nacinovich scored twice in that game, while setting up Doyle Curry for a 5-on-3 shorthanded goal to build a 3-0 lead. Nate May stopped 30 of 31 shots in the game as Chatham earned its third state finals appearance since 2018.
ALSO CONSIDERED: Speaking of turnarounds, KJS United’s Jeff Myhren and Montville’s Anthony Iannone both oversaw dramatic turnarounds this season. KJS went 5-12-3 last winter and this year, went 14-6-1 with an 8-0 Halvorsen record to claim the program’s first division title since the tri-op was established in 2020. Montville, on the other hand, won two games in Iannone’s first season last year, and it rebounded to go 14-4-2 with an 8-0 record in the Charette Division, and won the Charette Cup. On the girls side, Kevin Hannon‘s Chatham-Millburn squad went from one win last year to a 9-8-3 mark this year.
Ryan Tatarka, in his second year, led Mount Olive-Hopatcong-Hackettstown to the Halvorsen Cup title which was impressive given it was the program’s first year in the Halvorsen Division after years in the Haas. Phil Togno led a West Morris squad to its second-straight Haas Cup even after losing one of its top players in Ben Willmott to juniors. Tom Levis, who won his 300th game for Park Regional this season, led his team to the final and nearly won the Haas Cup despite just sneaking into the playoffs.
There were a lot of great coaching jobs done throughout the area this year, needless to say.
E-mail Mike Gurnis at email@example.com
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