Jan 13, 2001
By DON BENEVENTO
Anthony Nordo has no problem expressing his
enthusiasm for playing ice hockey, a game he was first introduced to
almost as soon as he was able to lace up his skates.
"I like the competitiveness of the game," he said.
"I like the toughness, the speed of the game -- everything there is."
In fact, ice hockey is the only sport that Nordo is
interested in playing at a competitive scholastic level. That makes it
fortunate for him that he attends Bishop Eustace Prep School. Bishop
Eustace Prep and St. Augustine Prep are the only two schools in South
Jersey that put New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association
sanctioned hockey teams on the ice.
Whether more schools are to follow remains to be
A number of high schools are playing club hockey in
an informal South Jersey League, but they have not taken the steps yet
that would make it a sanctioned sport on a statewide level.
Both Bishop Eustace and St. Augustine have gone
that route. They began as club teams, but school officials have decided
to make a deeper financial commitment in order to cover such expenses as
equipment, ice time, insurance, and travel costs.
St. Augustine coach Greg Conicello said the budget
for his teams runs about $27,000 a year.
St. Augustine rents the Hollydell Rink in
Washington Township to use as its home ice. Bishop Eustace plays the
Flyers Skate Zone in Pennsauken. Rental fees for ice time alone can
reach $230 an hour.
Still, proponents say the benefits of sponsoring an
ice hockey team often outweigh the negatives.
"When the program started years ago, we told the
parents we would sponsor it as a club for a couple of years and see if
it sustains life," said Bishop Eustace rector Rev. Joe Capella. "Well it
did sustain life. And after the third or fourth year, we said we'd take
it on and make it one of our school programs. They could wear our
jerseys and the school would pay some of the expenses."
Rev. Capella was one who saw the upside of such a
"(Having an ice hockey team) gives the school a
certain notoriety outside the usual level of high school programs," he
said. "The team gets a lot of support because it is unique. The kids get
very excited about it."
Conicello has had a similar experience at St.
Augustine, where the level of fan support is high.
"The reception we have gotten has been great," he
said. "The school fully supports the program."
Both schools also have found no shortage of those
who were interested in playing high school ice hockey.
Bishop Eustace, coached by Mike Green, has 27
players on its roster, including Nordo and assistant captains Bobby
Beauchamp, John Mirmanesh and Ryan Wade, who provide the senior
leadership along with Brett Audino.
Junior Greg Ball and sophomore Evan Kostka share
goaltender duties, while Green lists freshman Joey Johnston among his
At St. Augustine, Conicello puts out a roster of 20
varsity players and 20 junior varsity players, led by captain Nick
DeSimone, a resident of Washington Township.
Junior defenseman Ray Rastelli is also one of the
St. Augustine captains, while winger Bill Haas is one of the team's
Like Bishop Eustace, St. Augustine also has a
freshman contributor in winger Justin Britton.
"He's a strong hockey player," said Conicello, who
also relies on the play of goalie Gus Yamulbilis.
For their part, both Green and Conicello came to
their respective teams with a wealth of ice hockey coaching and playing
experience. Green is a former youth and prep school player, and
Conicello said he's been involved in ice hockey for 20 years, the last
three at St. Augustine.
Green, who also coaches boys' soccer at Haddon
Township, is in his second season at Eustace, where he led the team into
the state tournament last season.
He has seen the game's popularity grow.
"There was a time when you had to go out of state
to play competitive hockey." Green said. "But now that it's growing in
New Jersey, a lot of the guys who played are coming back to coach. I
think that's helped the level of hockey."
While ice hockey hasn't quite caught on in South
Jersey yet, it is a growing sport statewide.
Taking into account three conferences, along with a
number of independent and private schools, more than 100 ice hockey
teams are eligible to compete for an NJSIIA state championship.
Bishop Eustace and St. Augustine play in the
64-team New Jersey Interscholastic Hockey League -- by far the biggest
conglomeration of teams in the state.
Eustace plays in the National Division A, which
includes teams considered among the most experienced and best in the
According to a state poll, Bishop Eustace, which
went into play this weekend with a 3-5-1 record, is the No. 10-ranked
team in the state.
St. Augustine is a first-year member of the NJIHL
and has been placed in American Division A, the slot designated for new
However, St. Augustine has had a program in place
for three years and is one of the better teams playing at the lower
level, as witnessed by the fact that the Hermits won their first eight
"We actually have a very strong program," said
Conicello. "We really should be much higher, but that's the way the
So much of the action is concentrated in the
northern and central part of the state. And that creates travel problems
for South Jersey's two teams.
It is not unusual to take a two- or three-hour bus
ride to play. Along with playing 20- to 22-game schedules, both Bishop
Eustace and St. Augustine generally practice two times a week as well,
so that requires some adjustments in personal schedules.
That is especially true in light of the fact that
both Bishop Eustace and St. Augustine place stringent academic demands
on their athletes.
"Sometimes it gets tough for academics," said St.
Augustine's DeSimone, who -- like many other high school players -- also
plays for a club team. "The way I approach it is to put academics ahead
Others try to adapt to the situation and enjoy the
fact that they're getting a chance to play a game they love so well.
"I do my homework on the bus," said Eustace's
Beauchamp. "It gets to be a hassle at times, but it's fun."