Bishop Eustace, St. Augustine rivalry heats up the ice

Thursday, January 25, 2007

 

One of the hottest rivalries in South Jersey continues in a few days. It is a new sport rivalry, but it is hot, even on ice.

The ice hockey teams from Bishop Eustace and St. Augustine will play again Tuesday at the Vineland Ice Arena.

These two longtime basketball rivals have transferred the intensity to the rink. In the first meeting this year, in the season opener for both teams on Dec. 1, the play was as passionate as a playoff game.

The passion overflowed into the crowd that packed the Flyers Skate Zone in Pennsauken, too. It was the liveliest atmosphere I've seen at any scholastic sporting event this winter.

"It is a great way to open the season," Bishop Eustace coach Mike Green said after the game.

And Green was on the losing end of a 4-2 score.

What is really cool about this rivalry on ice is the respect both programs show each other. They really want to pound each other, but they realize they bring out the best in each other, too. This is what rivalries are all about.

This respect is cued by the coaches -- Green and St. Augustine first-year coach Tim Fingerhut.

After beating Bishop Eustace in the opener, Fingerhut talked at length about how much Green has done for the sport in South Jersey. He was genuinely thankful for Green's endless efforts to grow the game in the area so that this rivalry could happen.

"I give a lot of credit to Mike Green. He has been a pioneer," Fingerhut said. "He has done a great job promoting hockey in South Jersey. We kind of feed off what he has done."

Fingerhut, who went on to play professionally for the Pittsburgh Penguins, has seen ice hockey surge in South Jersey. He went to Camden Catholic before transferring as a sophomore to play at a prep school in New Milford, Conn., in the early '90s. With the sport reaching a higher talent level, Fingerhut might have stayed home to play hockey.

Now local grade-school stars have an alternative. They can play good hockey in South Jersey.

"I'm happy to be a part of it," Fingerhut said. "It is tremendous."

Many of the players who suit up for the Crusaders and the Hermits had visited the other school before deciding where to attend, which only makes the rivalry even more intense.

"There is a lot of quality hockey at both schools," Fingerhut said.

The rivalry promises to get hotter.