Eustace, St. Augustine keep area ice hockey alive

February 22, 1999

Another scholastic ice hockey season came and went without much fanfare for Bishop Eustace Prep, which was eliminated over the weekend from Gordon Cup play.

Once again, the Crusaders played a season in relative anonymity. That's, perhaps, understandable, considering that Bishop Eustace and St. Augustine Prep field the only two NJSIAA-sanctioned teams in South Jersey.

Despite the hopes and dreams of ice hockey proponents in the region, it doesn't seem likely that the sport will be experiencing a boom soon.

"I've been discussing this with a lot of people, and money seems to be the sticking point," said second-year Bishop Eustace Coach Joe Gigantiello. "It's quite an expensive sport to play. There's the matter of buying the equipment, and the league fees, referees, ice time fees . . . A lot of schools don't have that kind of money in their budgets."

According to Gigantiello, similar financial difficulties don't effect many North Jersey teams.

"A team like Seton Hall has the budget to practice every day," he said. "I've been told Princeton Day School puts $17,000 a year into their program. It's a matter of how much effort is put into it and how much they want to spend."

Bishop Eustace helps defray some of the cost to the school by requiring players to supply their own equipment. The school pays other fees -- buses, ice time, league fees, etc. -- but other districts have been reluctant to take even the smallest steps toward absorbing such a financial burden.

"To take on a hockey team to please 30 people, they don't think it's worth the expense," Gigantiello said.

Despite the the difficulties, however, it should be noted that some schools in the area do have club teams. And others are still considering the prospect of officially adding hockey.

Discussions have been held at Washington Township, for example, but proposals have yet to pass the budget.

Meanwhile, teams like Bishop Eustace and St. Augustine have no choice but to do a lot of traveling in order to compete.

"And it puts a big strain on our team," said Gigantiello. "Our closest game is about an hour away. The closest teams to us are in the Mercer County Area. Then, there are games in the Brick Township-Toms River area -- places like that."

In past years, the Crusaders have fared well playing against that level of competition. But this season -- despite the presence of high-level goal-scorers such as Ryan Shaw, Bobby Beauchamp, Raymond Cacia and Anthony Nordo -- the team played to a 5-15-1 record.

"Technically, we're not a bad team," Gigantiello said. "It's just the level of competition we play. It seems like every team has been in the top 10."

The addition of a few more teams could ease the burden. But for now all anybody can do is wait.

Don Benevento covers high school sports for the Courier-Post.