By Steve Sears
The Kinnelon High School Colts hockey team will in the 2020-21 season begin a two-year tri-op merger approved by the NJSIAA, joining forces with the Sparta-Jefferson ice hockey programs.
The agreement will be revisited after two years. There is potential with approval from the state to extend to four years should all three schools elect to do so.
Jeff Myhren, who was the coach of the Kinnelon club – while, ironically enough, also living in Sparta and being an alumnus of Jefferson High School – will continue to coach the team, which will play all of its home games at Skylands Ice World in Stockholm, the home ice for both clubs prior to the agreement.
“It was just a nice coincidence, having ties to all three schools makes it fun and a little easier transition,” says Myhren of his relationship to all three schools involved. “All three schools had low numbers playing hockey, playing in the same conference, and practicing at the same rink are the main reasons it worked.”
Myhren credits Kinnelon Athletic Director Scott Rosenberg with getting the merger accomplished. “Scott really got the ball rolling on this by reaching out to other Athletic Directors who had dwindling numbers. He wanted control of the program and made it happen. He always has his players and coaches’ best interest in mind.” Kinnelon will be the lead school in the merger.
Myhren explains how the merger helps the players from Kinnelon, from a schedule, competition, and safety standpoint. “The tri-op helps all of the athletes from a competitive standpoint and safety standpoint by having them play at the appropriate level. We didn’t have a junior varsity team and players that weren’t ready for varsity competition were being placed at a level they weren’t ready for. There is a big difference between a 14-year-old freshman and an 18-year-old man. Now everyone will be able to compete for spots and play at the appropriate level, junior varsity, or varsity. Having competition in house makes everyone better.”
The merger suggestion and ultimate opportunity had been in Kinnelon’s thoughts for the past few years as numbers declined on their hockey team. “We’ve been a proud program,” says Rosenberg, “and kind of wanted to be fiercely independent as long as we could. But just seeing the numbers going down we knew that we had to make the move coming into this year. We were afraid that we might have been able to survive for maybe one more year but probably wouldn’t be able to survive for two.”
Kinnelon finished up the 2019-20 season with 18 players, graduating 8. This year’s total would number 13 or 14. There were also some newer players coming out to learn and play the game, but they most likely would be JV team possibilities.
Therefore, from a numbers’ perspective, the tri-op merger was a winning move.
“We’re very excited about it,” says Rosenberg. “I think every school would love to be on their own as much as possible and not give up some of the history of a program. But the goal here is to combine all three schools, get the numbers up in each individual school, so that at some point all of us can be back in our own programs.”