Following a season in which the Shore Conference had a representative in each of the three state finals, and an off-season of sifting through graduated players, transferring skaters, first-year participants, and burgeoning stars, it’s time to unveil the pre-season Top 10 Poll for the forthcoming 2015-16 campaign.
It’s no surprise that two-time defending Non-Public champion CBA leads the pack, but find out where the rest of the field falls.
TOP 10 POLL
1. CBA: CBA may yet again prove to be the top team in the state, let alone the class of the Shore Conference. Built from the net out, the Colts enter the year with an an All-Shore selection and third-year starter Michael Cernero (.911 save-percentage, 1.71 goals against average) in the crease and one of the top defensive units in New Jersey, which is fronted by senior captain Ryan Bogan Jr. and classmate Jimmy Stanger. CBA also features a USHL draft selection in Derek Contessa, and returning talents Anthony Cucich and Cristian Winters up front, with emerging forces James Timko, Tim Grable, Corey Clifton, and Dean DiFazio set to shoulder larger roles.
2. Middletown North: The Lions return the majority of its NJSIAA Public B state championship team, including a depth of talent at forward with a pair of NCAA Division I commits in Quinnippiac signee Khristian Acosta and Northeastern bound Bobby Hampton (who recently signed with the Chicago Steele of the USHL), not to mention seniors Vinny Tomassetti and Kevin Felice (31 Points). The Lions will also be steady on the blue line with Ryan Davidson, Brian Colucci, and Kyle Goworak set to return, as well as in the crease with senior Anthony Manfredi ready for his first full year as a starter.
3. Red Bank Catholic: Though lacking the amount of household names it did last year, Red Bank Catholic enters as a two-time defending conference champion, and with one of the Shore’s most explosive forwards in Evan Hoey, who will be backed by such burgeoning talents as Alec Mintz and Kyle Amato. It remains to be seen if the Caseys can find the depth they had over the past two years, but returning alternative captains Cole Kirchner (defense) and two-way forward Andrew Lambert, as well senior goalie Matt Benjamin make for a solid foundation to build on.
4. Howell: Though the NJSIAA Public A finalists lost a lot in the off-season to graduation and junior hockey (Kyle Hallbauer, Lee McCarthy, Jack Kosinski, Brad Becker), Howell returns one of the top goaltenders in the state in Bobby Dovenero, and will see much of that departed point production and defensive prowess fall to senior CBA transfer Timothy Clifton, senior captain Anthony Gallicchio, and classmate Greg Bernhardt, while Steve Ramos and assistant captain Ryan Damelio will lead the defensive core.
5. Middletown South: Full of youth and forward depth Middletown South could prove to be one of the most exciting teams in the Shore, as the Eagles will be able to roll four lines of emerging talent, but none more notable than a top grouping that includes the skilled scoring tandem of juniors Gavin Gulash and Ryan Lambert, and the excellent sophomore skater Deven Ralph. After graduating Wes Friberg and Brandon Schulman from its blue line, and losing goalie Owen Liskiewicz to junior hockey, some questions surround the Eagles backline, but senior pivot Alex Lathem and his partner Greg Johnson return to fortify the defense.
6. Southern Regional: The Rams did lose some notable skaters (Brandon Biegan, Nick Godfrey, John Rowland, Ryan Rowland) from a team that captured the first division crown in club history in 2014-15, and earned an NJSIAA Public A semifinals berth. However, Southern returns 18 players from that group, including touted two-way forwards TJ Hawkins, Jack Conrad, Paul Keyes, Matt Saclvino, and Gavin Witt, not to mention blue liners Tommy Rossi and Tyler Golumb. The largest question comes in the crease, where the job of replacing Nick Karp is still being decided.
7. St. John Vianney: Replacing the offensive production of Matt Kidney and Mike Gelatt, as well as the steady goalie play of Jimmy Ellis, that was lost to graduation won’t be easy, but the Lancers have a cast of Shore Conference standouts in the making ready to give it a shot in returning juniors Max Allen, James O’Keefe, and highly regarded freshman John Gelatt. St. John Vianney will look to juniors Derek Golkin and James Rivelli, senior captain Jack Meaney, and freshman John Kennedy to fortify its blue line, while supporting freshman net minder Jeremy Connor.
8. Wall Township: The Crimson Knights enter the year sporting nine talented forwards that will be fronted by Shane Haviland, Tyler Panico and Christian Bierker (an immensely skilled senior skating in his first scholastic season), while Ryan Burns, junior captain Steven Karanassos, sophomore Zach Tarantino, Noah Ziegler, David Robberson, and Larry Hooper will all log sizable minutes. Senior captain Anthony Nastasi and classmate Clayton Cusson-Thomas will lead a young group of blue liners and support freshman goalie Logan Beattie.
9. Brick Township: Though the Dragons lost its leading scorer, Brian Lange, to graduation, a club that finished second in the Class A South a season ago returns its talented core that includes one of the Shore’s top young goaltenders in junior Jake Lakatos, as a well junior forwards JT Maloney and James Wiater, and defensemen Michael Mooney and Kyle Oliveira. With further contributions expected from freshman Spencer Rozell and sophomore Hunter Price, Brick Township should once again contend for a division title.
10. St. Rose: St. Rose’s NJSIAA and Shore Conference-approved merger with Donovan Catholic bolstered an already talented crop of Frozen Roses skaters, most notably on the blue line, where seniors Kyle Dickert, Steve Wallace, and Rich Harrold, and junior Keelan McGovern will be joined by a trio of skilled pivots in Bryce Grant, Mark Sandomierksi and Joe Merlucci. This cooperative will also feature a top line of junior Alex Phipps, and seniors Mike Veniditolli and Connor “Boomer” Cassidy.
On the buble: Freehold Township, Manalapan, Rumson-Fair Haven, Point Boro, Jackson Memorial, Jackson Liberty