Division/Classification: Class B North, Public B
Record last year: 13-9, 5-5
Home rink: Winding River
Opening night: Tuesday, Dec. 1 vs Freehold Boro, 4 p.m.
The scenario: The question surrounding Central Regional, a fast developing fourth-year program, is how will group respond to losing two of the conference’s leading point producers in Dylan Jenkins (24g, 39a) and Robbie Wiatrowski (37g, 22a), not to mention a starting net-minder in R.J. Boucher.
According to coach Joe Pelliccio, the answer resides in the club’s depth and a more balanced attack, as well a burgeoning goaltending talent in junior Riley Jacubzcuk.
“The feeling coming into this season is completely different than what we’ve had before,” Pelliccio said. “The past few years we were blessed to have such talented guys at the top in Dylan and Robbie to carry the load. But it’s a much more even feel all the way across now. We’re balanced across two or three lines, and I think it’ll make us more difficult to play against, since teams can’t key on one or two guys.”
The offensive zone: Pelliccio called captain Adam Leighton (10g, 6a) the “fastest and strongest skater we have,” and will look to the senior to lead the Golden Eagles offense on a top line centered by junior Jonas Mueller (1g, 5a) and including sophomore winger Sean Hughes, a Jersey Shore Wildcats product and a newcomer to the varsity ranks.
Pelliccio will also have a high powered second line that features New Jersey Titans 16U National skater Mikey Mania, who returns after a sophomore campaign in which the wingers delivered 39 points on 16 goals and 23 assists. The junior, who enters the year with 61 career points (25g, 36a), will center fellow juniors Josh Nelson (4g, 5a) and Dale Schweighardt (5g, 6a).
“We have a very balanced team as opposed to previous years,” Pelliccio said. “I now have two very solid lines, and I’d feel comfortable starting either one of them. Adam is our leader and Mike is an extremely talented kid who can play in any situation, but the guys they’re playing with are the key. And they’ve all made big strides from a season ago.”
Returning junior Travis Grady (8g, 6a), who shared a line with Jenkins and Wiatrowski a season ago, as well as incoming freshmen Gabe Forlenza (Jersey Shore Wildcats) and Matt Condello (Brick Hockey Club) are also expected to log plenty of minutes.
The defensive end: Alongside Leighton, senior defenseman Nick Pelliccio (1g, 9a) is one of two remaining players from the Golden Eagles inaugural season, and the Toms River Blackhawks pivot will be counted upon to front a corps of Central blue liners that includes his partner Patrick Kelsey, as well as sophomore Zach Burr and incoming junior Blayne Parks.
In the crease: Boucher’s absence leaves large skates to fill between the pipes, but junior Riley Jacubzcak is more than ready, and though he steps into the crease as a first time starter, he does so off an impressive series of appearance in 2014-15 in which he posted a .912 save percentage, including a 40-save night against Jackson Memorial, and a 52-save performance against Wall.
“Riley is rock solid,” Pelliccio said. “He won our biggest game last year against Jackson Memorial, and I think he was physically ready for the job last year. Mentally, I think he’s been ready since the seventh grade.”
Coaching note: Pelliccio will be joined behind the bench this season by Mark Pica (father of Toms River North’s Nick Pica). Pica was Pelliccio’s high school coach at Hudson Catholic, before the fourth-year Central head man joined Pica on the Hudson staff prior to taking the Golden Eagles position.
Holiday Tournament: Central will take part in the Toms River Mayor’s Cup Tournament on Dec. 26 and 27, filling the spot left by Donovan Catholic, who recently announced a merger with St. Rose.