Eustace has eyes on big prize

Saturday, January 15, 2005

By Kevin Callahan

PENNSAUKEN - After another solid win for the Bishop Eustace ice hockey team on Friday, Mike Dwier excitedly talked about the postseason aspirations of the Crusaders that are rising like the puck off his hard slapshot.

Dwier, a junior who assisted on the first goal and scored one in a 5-0 victory over St. Joseph Hammonton, said Eustace planned to go "deep into the playoffs this season."

Dwier didn't even finish the sentence when senior linemate Michael Mirmanesh quickly interjected with the force of a hip check, "Deep? We're going to win the state title."

Dwier can be forgiven not stating the same definitive confidence of Mirmanesh. After all, Dwier is still an underclassmen while this is it for Mirmanesh.

There's just more of an urgency when you're a senior.

This urgency for Mirmanesh and his four classmates, however, isn't just based on a healthy helping of senior optimism. Mirmanesh, as well as seniors Tim Purwin, Todd Kostka, Lou Tumolo and Dan Dwier - Mike's older brother - believe they can win the Parochial state title this year because they came so close last season.

Experience and success is truly the best fuel for optimism.

Last season, the relatively upstart Crusaders crashed all the way into the Elite Eight of the New Jersey Interscholastic Hockey League's tournament. They were just one win away from playing at Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford where the Devils used to win Stanley Cups when there was NHL hockey.

There is still quite a bit of skating to do to go from the compact gray-walled Flyers Skate Zone here in Pennsauken to the spacious white-side Continental Arena, but it seems this determined and talented senior class won't settle for anything less than having a parade down Route 70.

"We crossed that bridge last year when we beat St. John Vianney in the first round," Crusaders coach Mike Green said about looking toward a state title. "We do have our eyes out in front of that."

Green has built the Crusaders into such a power in just his sixth season that the sights are now on the chest protectors of defending state champion Seton Hall Prep as well as perennial powers Delbarton and Christian Brothers Academy.

It was CBA that ended Eustace's season last year in the quarterfinals with a 5-0 loss. But that was after the Crusaders won the Southern Conference Red Division championship. Eustace finished ranked No. 7 in the state with a 17-3-1 record.

"I think we are on a run with the tournament win last year and this year we are 7-2," said Kostka, a defenseman from Cherry Hill. "Our goal is to win the state championship and beat St. Augustine two more times."

It used to be good enough to beat rival St. Augustine in the regular season. Now the stakes are higher. Now, Eustace needs to beat the Hermits in the regular season and in the tournament and win the state championship.

Eustace already achieved part of their lofty trifecta by edging St. Augustine 1-0 last month on an Al Wooley goal. But that's just not enough for this team.

"Last year, the seniors took us to a level we had never been to before," said Dan Dwier, a forward from Voorhees. "As seniors, we can only expect to do that for the underclassmen."

Eustace certainly has an underclassmen who can help the seniors reach a higher level in Colin Saltiel, a spectacular sophomore goalie who shut out St. Joseph on 11 shots. But the Crusaders aren't relying on one scorer or stopper to help them reach their goals.

"We don't look at it like we have any superstars, we are all in this together," said Tumolo, a forward. "We don't look for one player to take us to another level."

Tumolo, Dan Dwier and Mirmanesh all reached another level together while playing for Voorhees Middle School, winning a state championship.

"We are all out for each other, we are all playing for each other," Mirmanesh said. "Our goal is to win a state championship and I think with this group we can do it."

If Eustace doesn't win the state title, it won't be because the Crusaders didn't give it their best shot.

This season is so important to them that instead of going out with friends on Saturday nights, they get together at 11 p.m. to skate during open ice time.

"Hey, don't tell anyone we do that," Mirmanesh said, shrugging his shoulders as if to say his friends won't think it's cool to work on skating on a Saturday night.

Actually, there is nothing cooler.