Eustace's playoff run continues today

By SEAN McCANN Courier-Post Staff March 15, 2008

PENNSAUKEN Most season-long school records come complete with a vigil, a countdown in the record-breaking athlete's head, if not blared across banners in the bleachers.

But Bishop Eustace sophomore ice hockey player Jamie Hill barely saw his piece of history coming. In fact, he almost tripped over it.

"I found out like two games before I broke it that I had a chance," said the Crusaders' new single-season scoring king. "One of my coaches told me when I was three points away.

"It turned out that we needed to get to the playoffs for me to have a chance to break it, so I couldn't be more thankful for my teammates and the way they've played."

Hill has 40 points -- 14 goals and a team-high 26 assists. He eclipsed the previous mark of 38, set by 2007 graduate Tyler Hancock, in the Crusaders' first-round playoff win over St. Joseph-Metuchen.

That playoff run and Hill's record-breaking season both continue this afternoon, when fifth-seeded Bishop Eustace (15-7-4) faces top-seeded Delbarton (25-1-1) in the non-public state semifinals at 2 p.m. at Mennen Ice Arena in Morristown.

On paper, the matchup would appear David-and-Goliath, but Eustace dealt Delbarton one of its two blemishes, a 1-1 tie back on Dec. 14.

"You look at Delbarton and you know they're a great team," Crusaders coach Mike Green said. "The fact that we tied them allows us to compete with them.

"But maybe they took us a little lightly in that game, and they're going to learn from that too.

"So we're going to have to raise our game."

With the seniors away on their class trip in Florida this week, the weight of the preparation for today's game has fallen on the Eustace underclassmen.

However, Green said that the program's youth has been delivering all season, perhaps none more than Hill.

"He's a really creative player, with lots of speed," Green said. "And any time you can combine creative skills with speed in ice hockey, you're going to be dangerous.

"He's also had terrific linemates this year, mostly Kevin Harding, Al Wooley and Mark Constantine."

In ice hockey, the success of an individual scorer is often directly related to the chemistry of his scoring line, and that's even more true in the case of someone like Hill, who racks up so many assists.

Senior Kevin Harding leads the Crusaders with 17 goals this year, standing second to Hill with 28 points.

Sophomore Mark Constantine is just behind with 27 points, and he scored the goal on which Hill passed Hancock.

"It was a 3-on-2 against St. Joe's-Metuchen," Hill said. "Mark picked the puck up and then dropped it to me. I faked the slap shot, slid it back down to him.

"He took the defenseman and was just waiting at the top of the slot, and slid it right over the goalie's shoulder."

Bishop Eustace's top line, which has also included senior Al Wooley, has largely fueled the Crusaders' successful season. Hill and Constantine both mentioned communication as the group's overriding talent.

"We're real cool with each other, and we know what we're going to do on the ice," Constantine said. "We're never confused on the ice.

"It definitely feels good to be on the line with the kid who broke the record."

Hill is the kind of player that has made the difference for both Bishop Eustace and St. Augustine -- which also plays in a non-public semifinal on Sunday night -- taking those programs from their beginnings to the top of the state.

A Glassboro resident, he came to watch Bishop Eustace play ice hockey as a grade schooler, and now he leads a youth movement that stands to keep the Crusaders in state championship contention for years to come.

"I've known Jamie for a while because he was around in youth hockey and he used to come and watch," Green said. "He was a kid I knew I wanted to see come to Bishop Eustace because I knew it would be good for him ice hockey-wise, and it would be good for us to have his talent around."

In Eustace's quarterfinal victory over Bergen Catholic, he had an assist, while freshman Chris Trecey put together two goals and an assist.

The Crusaders will need more of the same, plus a significant contribution from newly-tanned seniors, to upset Delbarton.