RANDOLPH — There’s nothing like that first ice cut of a new season. A fresh sheet of ice, unblemished, like a blank canvas, waiting to be carved up, waiting for the artist to give it some color.
Nick Hefferle broke the ice just 39 seconds into the 2017-18 high school hockey season in New Jersey and his brother, Billy, followed up with a hat trick and five points as Roxbury skated past Mendham, 9-3, on Opening Day at Aspen Ice in Randolph.
“We’re moving the puck, getting shots on goal and burying all our opportunities,” said Billy Hefferle, who now sits 30 points off Roxbury’s all-time scoring leader, Bryan Martin (’94). “It gets us off on the right foot and gives us a positive attitude. At the beginning of the season, a big win like that really gives this team confidence.”
Linemate Shane Miller added a goal and an assist and Joe Carey, Brendan Hertos and Kevin Keane also found the back of the net for Roxbury, which received 19 saves from goalie Tyler Marstow. Ryan Bruin accounted for all three goals for Mendham, which was without five of its regulars in the season-opener.
Billy Hefferle, a senior, his brother, Nick, a sophomore, along with fellow senior Shane Miller combined for six goals and five assists for 11 points as a line. The trio have been skating together in the New Jersey Colonials system for several years and read each other on the ice without saying a word.
“We just went out there and played our game, tried to stick to it and executed pretty well, clearly,” Nick Hefferle said. “As a line, we know what we’re doing, where we’re going and have pretty good chemistry. It allows us to make plays. We move the puck well together.”
Bruin, a sophomore, scored 16 seconds apart in the third period for Mendham, which was without last year’s leading scorer, Jake Marzalek, as well as Dillon Abend, John Inganamort and the defensive tandem of Jordan Lareabee and Sean Mason.
“We needed a few more on the board but I gave it my best effort,” Bruin said. “We were down a few players, but it feels pretty good to notch my first hat trick of the season in our first game. I didn’t know it was going to happen, but we needed it.”
For the first time in 15 years, Roxbury will skate in the heralded Mennen Division in the MCSSIHL. After a 19-6 season and back-to-back Halvorsen Cup titles, the Succasunna school makes the jump up to the elite division in Morris County. It’s the first time it will skate with the likes of Chatham, Morristown, Morristown-Beard, Morris Knolls Randolph since going 12-12-1 in 2002-03.
“Oh, it was before I was here,” Roxbury coach Jonathan Benbow, in his 14th season, said with a laugh. “It’s going to be tough for us. We graduated 12 seniors last year so it’s going to be a challenge, but we’ve worked our way from the Haas Division all the way to the Mennen. It shows the hard work and dedication these players and the coaches have put in over the years. Now our hope is to play well enough to stay there. We’re up with big boys now.
“I was happy with the way we played today,” Benbow continued. “We really wanted to stick to our system, generate shots on net and make the most of the chances we had. I was impressed with our power play and the way our top line was able to move the puck and stretch the ice which is what we’re looking for them to do all year.”
“We were the better team today, but we know it’s going to be a hard road ahead of us,” added Nick Hefferle, who tallied nearly as many points (4) as he had his entire freshman season (7).
With the five-point night, Nick’s older brother has now amassed 82 goals and 69 assists for 151 points in a standout career that began in 2014-15.
“We’ve got some things to work on but it’s the beginning of the season,” Billy Hefferle said. “But we got plenty of time to work on it.”
After a 7-11-3 campaign last season, Mendham coach John Kovacs is optimistic of the next generation of players coming up the pipeline.
“We were proud of our effort today. We knew we were undermanned and Roxbury is a top team — their top line is one of the best in the state — but we’re proud of the effort the kids gave,” Kovacs, in his 31st season behind the bench in New Jersey, said. “We’ll build from here.”
In the end, Opening Day on the 60th high school hockey season in New Jersey belonged to Roxbury, which attacked in waves, out-shooting Mendham, 43-22, in the tilt.
“It was definitely a big victory, getting the boys going, a lot of confidence heading into the season,” Shane Miller said. “You want get off to a good start. You have a bad start it could impact the whole season. I think we’re going to have a good year. We have a solid group of guys. Good start, good year.”
Written by John Christian Hageny / @JCCSPORTS
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