Ice hockey improving at Eustace

January 19, 2002
It seems like every time they drop a puck to start a Bishop Eustace ice hockey game, the Crusaders gain a little more respect throughout the state.

This season has been an especially good one for Eustace -- the No. 8 team in New Jersey as ranked by the Star Ledger.

 

The Crusaders won the eight-team Lawrenceville Tournament over the holidays and defeated powerful St. John Vianney, the state's No. 1-ranked team. Eustace is the only New Jersey team to accomplish that this season.

Before that, Bishop Eustace took highly regarded Brick Township, perhaps the state's best public school team, down to the final five seconds before losing 5-4.

 

In the hockey community, the Eustace surge has been big news.

"There's no doubt that in North Jersey we're looked on as a competitor for the best team in the state," said Eustace coach Mike Green.

Green credits a solid group of seniors and sophomores for leading the team's success.

"Dave Baratta, Joey Johnston and Sean Kohler are top-notch sophomores who really helped turn the team around when they came in as freshmen last year," Green said. "And our seniors -- Tom Garvey, Ted Wooley, Nick Lepore, Phil Passarelli, Greg Ball and Romeo Pacifico -- have all performed well.

 

"That combination gives us a good team effort. Those players can compete with anybody in the state."

Garvey, one of the team captains, has seen the rise in respect Bishop Eustace has earned over his years with the team.

"Ever since Mike Green took over as coach a few years ago, it's been uphill for us," he said. "For the first three years, I think a lot of teams were looking down on us. But now we're starting to make our mark. I think when we lost to Brick in the last five seconds, we started to get some believers. But then when we beat St. John Vianney, that was the highlight of the season.

"Hopefully, it won't be our last highlight."

 

More than 100 high schools are sanctioned to compete in ice hockey by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association. But only two -- Bishop Eustace and St. Augustine -- compete in South Jersey.

That makes for a lot of time traveling on buses, but the players have learned to use their time together on the road to create their own advantage.

"When everybody gets together on the bus, it gives us a chance to work out our game plan and strategies," said Passarelli. "I think it helps us come together as a team."

 

If there are problems, they have not been staggering. With each passing season, the Eustace program has grown in popularity.

The student body has become accustomed to following the team's exploits, and Green had 40 prospects come out for the team this season.

"The level of player we're getting is getting better every year," Green said. "Hopefully, we can keep improving as a team."