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Nutley Columbia's Seniors

Nutley Columbia Hockey Senior Night

Monday, January 17th marked a very bittersweet night for the Nutley Columbia High School Hockey team, as they honored the graduating seniors from the Class of 2022. This entire season has been filled with a bundle of emotions, and every second of hard work they have put into the last four years is coming together now to showcase them one last time. 


It was a very memorable night for the seniors on the Nutley Columbia Hockey Team as they secured a 11-1 win over Milburn. Senior Julian Poole scored three goals and had one assist. Senior Rocco Albanese scored three goals, had five assists, and was recognized for reaching 100 points in his entire high school hockey career. Lastly, senior CJ Hannon and junior Trey Gigante both scored one goal, while senior TJ Wassman and freshman Alex Benkert each scored two goals. 


Charles Hannon (CJ), a center for Nutley Columbia, has been a vital part of the team throughout his last four years. He has helped the team win championships and tough games, while also challenging himself individually to achieve many commendable things. “The team's biggest accomplishment in my time was winning the McMullen Cup freshman year. My own personal biggest accomplishment was being named captain in my senior year,” CJ states. 


He is one player who has not decided to leave the game of hockey behind, but instead hopes to continue playing in college. He explains, “I plan to try out for a club team depending on the college I go to. I am planning to study either Chemistry or English as my major with hopes of attending either medical school or law school.” Although the academic portion leading towards these goals is a reflection of his own hard work in the classroom, he also mentions that hockey has helped him to stay on the right track, so he can be successful in whatever he decides to do. 


Moreover, like any other athlete, there could never be enough ways to thank the people who have helped you throughout your career. CJ managed to sum it up pretty nicely, however he still reminds us that there were so many other people who helped him get to where he is today. This journey would not have been possible without them, and his life ahead would not be reachable had it not been for their constant love and support. 


“Most importantly, I would like to thank my parents. The time they have invested in me has allowed me to play the sport I love. Whether it be driving to practices, games, or signing me up for camps and lessons, they have always been there for me. I would also like to thank all my coaches over the years. They have taught me so much and developed me into the player I am today. Finally I would like to thank my teammates who have put joy and fun into playing the game,” CJ explains. 


This is a very emotional time for Assistant Captain Rocco Albanese, one of Nutley Columbia’s wingers. Not only is he saying goodbye to Nutley Columbia, but his hockey career as a whole. Following his graduation from Nutley High School, he is going on to play Division III Lacrosse at Albertus Magnus College. Having been a star player since his freshman year, and later growing to become the heart and soul of his team, leaving this all behind in a few weeks is going to be brutal. 


Sports are often where you find your best friends, and since he has played with most of these people for a better part of his life, this team has become more like family to him. Rocco states, “What I will miss the most about playing for this team are the players. I have played with a lot of them throughout my whole playing career and for that to be gone soon just doesn’t sit well with me. I’ll also miss those little things like warm-ups, being in the locker room with everyone, and the bus rides.” 


During the span of the last four years, Rocco has been an integral part of the team, contributing more to their success than most wingers can say for themselves. He values the team's success more than his own, which is why the highlight of his career ended up being a championship they won. For instance, “Winning the McMullen Cup my freshman year, the whole team played well throughout that year and we all deserved that win,” Rocco said. 


However, it is also important to acknowledge some of his greatest individual accomplishments, as the team would not have been as triumphant had he not been a part of it. When asked what his most unforgettable game or performance was, Rocco stated, “In my first state game I had two goals, and helped the team secure a tough win.”


Assistant Captain Julian Poole, now playing forward for Nutley Columbia because of a knee injury, has been another intrical part of this team throughout his last four years of attending Nutley High School. He’s filled with mixed emotions on his final season playing for this team coming to an end, because as much as he is excited for new beginnings, he is leaving a very important part of his life behind. He stated, “Nutley Columbia Hockey coming to an end has me feeling weird because this year’s hockey has gone by so fast.” 


When talking more about his overall experience playing high school hockey, he explains how this sport, along with his teammates and coaches have helped shape him into both the person and player he is today. “Being a part of this team shaped me into the person and player I am today because it showed me that if you practice and put your effort into anything you will succeed and results will show,” Julian says. 


Lastly, something the Nutley Columbia Hockey team has always lived by is going after something if it truly means that much to you. That you won’t succeed in life by sitting around and waiting for things to happen, instead you have to go after them yourself. Something that has helped Julian stay on track is always keeping the quote, “If you want it, become it” by Mastin Kipp in the back of his head. 


Assistant Captain and Nutley Columbia defenseman, Frankie Matronna has been recognized as a very accomplished person and player throughout his high school career. Being the versatile player that he is, he was asked to switch positions with Julian Poole after a mid-season knee injury, from forward to defense. Like the previous players, he has known most of his teammates for a good majority of his life, so saying goodbye is going to be very difficult. “Yes, it is going to be extremely hard. I grew up playing with some of these kids and am lucky enough to say they are my friends for life and would do it all over again in an instant,” Frankie states. 


When asked to reflect on his time playing for this team, he explains how your time in high school truly does go by fast, so you need to take advantage of every second of it. Furthermore, “Enjoy your time while you’re here. High school went by in the blink of an eye and hockey season always goes by fast, that’s why you just have to take it slow and enjoy the time.” 


In addition to this, for the ones that truly love it, hockey is more than just a game. Under the right instruction, you are not only bettering yourself as a player, but as a person too. Frankie talks a little bit about his plans for after high school, and he tells us how none of it would have been possible had he not been a part of this team. “I’m definitely going to college after high school. Nutley Columbia has helped me mature in life and shown me how to take and handle responsibility that I will have for my whole life,” he explains. 


As difficult as it is for the seniors to say goodbye, it is an equally emotional time for the younger players who are losing their teammates. Two players this change is really having a strong impact on are junior goalie Victoria Rutnik and sophomore winger Mallory Albanese. They have both had the privilege of playing with this group of seniors since they were freshman, and to see them graduate is going to be very challenging. 


Victoria has been playing with this group of seniors for three years now and has formed long lasting relationships that she is not ready to let go of. “Losing a group of teammates that I have been with for the past three years is definitely going to be emotional. They have been such great teammates throughout the years and it will not be the same without them next year,” Victoria states. 


They have helped her to win some of her biggest games and have impacted her in ways no one else has. For example, “My favorite memory playing with this group was having my first varsity shutout with them my freshman year and beating Watchung Hills a few weeks ago. Both games were so exciting and overall a great vibe after the game.” Additionally, “Yes, they have definitely impacted me in a positive way because they are very motivating and keep me in the game even when I make a mistake. They always high-five me and say positive things throughout the game as well.” 


When asked what Victoria will miss most about not having them there next year she explains, “I will miss not having them there with us in general and also the high skill level and tempo they bring to the team. They all lead the team so well and are a very skilled group.” 


Lastly, when asked if there is a specific player who will be hardest to lose, Victoria states Rocco Albanese, which is a huge reflection on his overall character and play. Victoria mentions, “I think losing them all will be very hard, but specifically, I feel that losing Rocco will be the hardest. He is a very skilled player and has always been so nice to me.”


Although Mallory may not like to admit it, she is someone who will be hit the hardest when it comes to losing the seniors. Mallory is a part of a huge hockey family, and has shared the ice with her older brother Rocco for two years now. One of the major questions she has recently been asked is, “did you enjoy playing with your brother,” where she confidently states, “Yes! As a freshman, having him and his friends on the team was very comforting. I’ve known his hockey friends since they were all five years old.” 


As you may imagine, playing on a team with your sibling isn’t always easy, as they sometimes find themselves bickering on and off the ice. However, she actually felt that her brother's brutal honesty made her a better player overall. Mallory exclaims, “Rocco likes to tell me everything I do wrong on the ice… so I think having him on the team has made me a better player cause I know what I need to work on.” 


Despite the little arguments they have had here and there, when asked to look back at her time playing with Rocco, she explains how she will miss the little things. Mallory mentions, “Him being able to assist my first goal and speeding to practices because we’re running late.” Although every moment may not have been ideal, they shared a greater bond with each other than anyone else on the team. 


However, as much as she will miss not having Rocco next year, she explains how she is excited for new beginnings. Moreover, “My younger brother comes up next year and he plays hockey. So I am losing Rocco on the team but gaining AJ.”


Lastly, it is important to recognize that Mallory has strong relationships with other seniors on the team, and will miss them greatly as well. Mallory states, “I will miss Sophia. Sophia has been my hockey sister since Rocco started playing. We were the two sisters in the stands cheering on our brothers, and it was because of Sophia telling me she started to play that I joined a girls hockey team. I guess I’ll also miss Julian… Don’t tell him!” 


Because the team is predominantly made up of boys, Mallory values her relationship with Sophia very much, and it is going to be difficult to not have her on the team next year. To add onto this, Julian has been like an older brother to Mallory for a better part of her life, and although they may get on each other's nerves, losing him is like losing Rocco in a way. 


Like all the players and parents, it’s going to be very difficult for Head Coach Dave Macri to see these seniors go. “It’s gonna be hard to see this group move on. They are a special bunch of players that have good chemistry and have a huge impact on our games. Each of them brings their own dynamic to our team that is not replaceable. Because players graduate, it is rare to have the same team for more than one year. Fortunately, we have talented players returning and it will be interesting to see who will step up and fill their spots,” Macri explains. 


Coach Macri is very fond of these players, as he describes them as “a talented, personable group.” He then goes on to say that they are “fun to coach and fun to be around. They are not only teammates, but they are friends. They each bring something to the table that makes us better. That combination makes for a great team.” 


Coach Macri has a lot of great memories, however one of his favorites only took place a few weeks ago. “There are so many. I’ve known a lot of them as hockey players since they were ten years old. Most recently, we beat Watchung Hills in a tournament. They played as a true team. They played together and they won together. We were very much the underdog in that game and it was great to see their reactions when they pulled off the win. I’ll remember that one for a long time,” Macri explains. 


To add onto this, not only was the Watchung Hills game a great memory, but a proud coach moment as well. “The Watchung Hills game is one for sure. As I mentioned before, I have known most of them since they were much younger. My absolute proudest feeling for them is not from one particular moment but rather from seeing how they have grown and matured into the young men and women that they have become. I am extremely proud of them. They are bound for great things and I’m excited to see where they go from here,” says Macri. 


Lastly, Coach Macri has taken away many things from coaching this particular group. However, it is important to recognize the certain individuals who have truly impacted him in unimaginable ways. “CJ Hannon has one of the best work ethics I’ve ever seen. He never quits. I’ve always had a profound respect for that type of player. Julian Poole has been injured and courageously playing through pain to help his team. I admire his commitment to his team. Sophia Carillo went from being a manager to a player and is one of the most coachable players I’ve known. Coachability is HUGE and I thank her for that,” states Macri.

Finally, it is just as difficult a time for the senior parents to see their kids graduate, as it is for the seniors to do so. Rocco and Mallory’s parents, John and Jenn Albanese express their thoughts and feelings on their oldest son’s hockey career coming to an end. “Rocco has been playing hockey since he was in kindergarten. I am filled with a lot of sadness that this part of his life is ending, but I am also so proud of him. To play a sport and dedicate so much of your life is a huge accomplishment,” Jenn remarks. 


Together they balanced sacrificing countless hours in their day, traveling to games, practices, tournaments, clinics, and anywhere else Rocco needed to be. Always making an effort to put him first, so he would be in the best possible position to succeed, and although they were not out there on the ice with him, a huge part of their lives is now coming to an end. 


John Albanese, father of Mallory and Rocco, summed it up perfectly when he stated, “Hockey is a sport you don’t just start at without a solid foundation. The players must know how to skate, shoot, and stick handles. That takes years to master. So Senior Night is a big night. It’s the final curtain of years and years of hard work. It’s years of skating lessons, hockey games, hockey practices, and tournaments all coming to an end. It’s a night filled with mixed emotions for the players and for their parents. We are excited for Rocco to have had this great opportunity. Rocco met most of his best friends on the ice. So, although I am happy to celebrate each of those players on Senior Night, it’s also very sad because it’s the end of a huge chapter in their lives and ours,” he said. 


When asked what they will miss most about watching Rocco play, John exclaims, “I will miss seeing his celebrations after a goal. I will miss hearing his recaps of the games at home. But what I will miss most of all is seeing him and his friends, many who he’s been playing with since Kindergarten, out on the ice doing what they love.” Jenn Albanese, mother of Mallory and Rocco, says, “I will miss watching Rocco play. That’s it. It’s very simple. It’s a game he loves and you can see that when he’s out on the ice. I will also miss watching many of the Seniors play. Most of them, I have been watching play since first grade and here they are as seniors still playing together. So when I see them out there, I still see them as these little kids playing the game they love.”


Reminiscing on the last four years of hockey brought up many emotions, however it brought back some of their favorite memories. John stated, “I have so many memories of Rocco playing hockey. Too many to count! But if I had to say one, I guess it would be last year when Mallory joined the team. If a player from the opposing team hit her – I loved watching him go out there and go after the kid for hitting his sister!” Jenn followed up by saying, “My favorite hockey memory was freshman year when they won the championship for their division along with their run in States. Honestly, my favorite memories are just seeing him play with these kids that he has known for his whole life and having fun.” 


“This year’s hockey team is made up of many great young men and women! These seniors all went to different elementary schools in Nutley but regardless of that fact many were close since kindergarten. Their time on the ice formed long lasting relationships. I will miss seeing each of these kids on a regular basis, but I am really excited for what their future holds,” John stated. 


Lastly, they both agreed that if they could give any upcoming hockey parents advice, it would be to, “Take lots of pictures, go to as many games as you can, and enjoy the ride. It goes fast!” 


All in all, the life lessons and memories they have shared with this team will always stick with them. No day will go by where they don’t look back on the good times they shared with their team, and remember all Nutley Columbia had to offer them. Each individual on the team has strived to become the best version of themselves, and will continue to be successful wherever they go in life. “Once a Raider, Always a Raider!”