Jackson Memorial High School’s ice hockey team for the second straight year under coach Larry Clayton is off to a fast start at 3-1-1.
Jackson Liberty High School has also started out strong at 4-3-2.
A year ago, Jackson Memorial started off 6-0 and went 8-1-2 after 11 games, going on to finish the season with 13 victories for the second straight year.
But Clayton is reserving judgment about his team’s chances for equal or greater success until he sees what happens in the upcoming weeks. He already has stoked the schedule with some formidable opponents, including Dec. 13 against Brick Township High School, which scored a 5-3 victory, and Dec. 2 against Southern Regional High School, which Jackson Memorial rallied back against for a 4-4 tie. Freshman forward Nick Swain scored three goals — two in a span of 21 seconds late in the third period — against Southern Regional.
“Statistically, it’s an OK start,” Clayton said. “We got some mixed results against two top teams we’ve played so far.”
The Jaguars had another top opponent Dec. 28 when they played Red Bank Catholic High School in the Winding River Holiday Tournament.
Red Bank Catholic pulled out a 3-2 victory in overtime.
With only four seniors, Clayton needs some younger players to mature quickly as the schedule toughens with a Jan. 8 game at defending NJSIAA Public B state champion Middletown High School North, which is loaded with returning players. There is also a rematch with Brick Township, a pair of games against Brick Memorial High School, a rematch with Southern and a Feb. 8 game against Jackson Liberty before a showdown with formidable Toms River High School South two days later.
“From January, it’s the meat of the season — the make or break time against some elite teams,” Clayton said. “I sought out better teams. Everybody on this team is making an effort. A lot of players are willing and able to contribute. No one is sitting back.”
Clayton said he needs the defense to perform even better, although it has done its share to contribute offensively. Senior Mike Termine, one of the four captains, leads the way with five goals and 10 assists centering a line with senior Chris Petrone and freshman Nick Swain, who Clayton says is a pleasant surprise with six goals and five assists.
The other line has also done its part with junior captains Joe Jablonski III and Kyle Lalley and sophomore Cam Satkowski, whose six points leads that trio. They have had their share of minutes against the top lines of opposing teams.
The defense has cashed in on scoring opportunities. It includes junior captain Trevor Cear, who has five goals and two assists, and senior Justin Mayer, who has four goals and six assists. Sophomores Connor Lowrey and Cody Jablonski (Joe’s younger brother) also contribute defensively.
Clayton said that junior Spencer Swain, Nick’s older brother, has been a strong force on defense, and James Termine, a freshman and younger brother of Mike, also has gotten minutes on defense.
“They have to play even better on the defensive side against those elite teams,” Clayton said. “If not, we’d need a lot of goals to beat those teams, which would be a tough task.”
They look to limit scoring opportunities against goalies Matt Pousson, a sophomore, and freshman Tristin DeVito.
“We need them to be even more consistent. There’s potential there,” Clayton said.
Jackson Liberty, meanwhile, has pleased second-year coach Kyle Weise despite losing a couple of games amid some key injuries and grooming new players after losing nine to graduation from last year’s team.
“It was a little bit of a rough start, but now we have everybody back healthy,” Weise said, as veteran goalkeeper Chris Stefanowicz kept things under control in December. “The defense has rallied around our goalkeeper. We’re not giving up a lot of opportunities.”
Jackson Liberty brought in a three-game win streak when it played North Jersey power Ridgewood High School Dec. 27 in the Montclair Holiday Tournament.
Jackson Liberty lost, 3-2, as Ridgewood rallied for two goals in the closing minutes, the winner coming with three minutes left.
Senior forward Leszrek Gronowski, a leading scorer the past two seasons, missed five games with a back injury, while topnotch senior defenseman Tyler Melnick (shoulder injury) and Nick Uliano (illness) were missed in an early season loss to Ocean Township High School, 4-1. The Liberty Lions also lost to North Jersey power Morristown High School, 5-0, but boasted solid 3-2 victories over Point Pleasant Borough High School and Central Regional High School, as well as 1-1 ties with Middletown High School South and Wall High School.
Stefanowicz stopped 34 shots by Point Pleasant Borough, and senior forward Joe Low, who recently got his 100th career point, scored the game-winner against Central Regional with 3:40 left. Low plays on the first line with junior Joe D’Andrea and freshman center Nick LaBianca. Melnick, Uliano, freshman Joe Granza and junior Matt Meyer also have played well at forward.
Low and D’Andrea each scored a goal and assisted the other against Ridgewood.