PENNSAUKEN -- If you didn't know any
better, you might have thought you were in some high school
hockey hotbed. Somewhere really cold. Like Maine or Michigan
or Massachusetts where preschoolers lace up ice skates even
before they learn to tie their pee wee soccer cleats.
And it wasn't because winter weather
finally invaded South Jersey Wednesday, making the
gray-walled Flyers Skate Zone in Pennsauken feel as cozy as
watching an outdoor game on a frozen pond in Minnesota.
The reason this game between Bishop
Eustace Prep School and St. Augustine could've been confused
with a scholastic match up from a northern states -- the
ones that see ice before Christmas that isn't just in their
after dinner drinks -- is simply because of the quality of
Both teams skated with ease, passed
with purpose and checked hard with intelligence. It was for
sure the best hockey you will find in South Jersey. But the
Crusaders' 2-0 win over rival St. Augustine would've been
good high school hockey anywhere south of Canada.
Not great hockey, but solid scholastic
Obviously, the quantity and depth of
players from the traditional ice hockey states is still far
superior to the New Jersey league that Bishop Eustace and
St. Augustine play in. But the quality of play is good.
That's all, just good.
Good is fine, too, which means it is a
lot better than it was two decades ago and even two years
Sure, this might sound like hockey
heresy to the northerners, but hockey in South Jersey is now
good enough where every kid who one day hopes to play in
college doesn't pack his oversized equipment bag and head
for the best hockey-playing prep school in Maine or Michigan
Hockey was good enough here for Anthony
Flaherty to stick around and play his senior season for
Last year, Flaherty explored the
possibility of going to a prep school in northern Indiana.
He had visited Culver (Ind). Academy while playing for his
Mercer County Chiefs club team and got a taste of serious
So Flaherty thought about leaving his
Cherry Hill home, boarding with a family and attending this
school about a half hour outside South Bend, Ind.
But Flaherty chose not to play hockey
at Culver Academy and instead stayed here to play for the
Crusaders on their home ice off the Delaware River.
"You can play good hockey here now,"
Flaherty said. "It used to be high school hockey here was a
joke, something to goof around with, but now there is more
serious competition. It has gotten better my four years."
Flaherty, a defender, is one of the
reasons the skill level has advanced light years past the
street hockey rage when the Broad Street Bullies still ruled
and every kid from Cherry Hill to Cape May wore an orange
No. 16 Bob Clarke jersey.
The Crusaders' captain is skilled
enough to switch from his customary defensive spot on the
blue line to play center so he could mark the Hermits'
high-scoring freshman Dom Morrone.
The increased skill level also could be
seen in Sean Kohler, a senior center who scored late in the
first period to give Bishop Eustace a 1-0 lead.
It could also be seen in Pete Ciullo, a
senior left wing who assisted on the first goal, and in Tim
Purwin, a junior defenseman who scored an empty net goal
with 40 seconds left.
The rising skill level of players in
South Jersey could mostly be seen in Colin Saltiel, a
freshman goalie who stopped all 31 shots he faced. "New
Jersey ice hockey is finally getting to the level where kids
don't have to go away to play," Crusaders coach Mike Green
Green should know about the evolution
of hockey in South Jersey. He grew up in Haddonfield, but 15
years ago, went to play high school hockey at Deerfield
(Mass.) Academy. His brother, Bill Green, had started club
hockey at Bishop Eustace as a sophomore in 1977, but he
wanted better competition.
"If we had this caliber of hockey, I
wouldn't have gone away," Mike Green said. "But back then,
you had no choice if you wanted to be a good hockey player."
Reach Kevin Callahan at email@example.com