You have to go back a few years, to the days when Brick Township High School’s hockey team was a competitor in the elite Gordon Division and got off to a 5-0 start.
“It would have to be quite a while,” longtime coach Bob Auriemma said. “It’s more than four years, five years for sure, probably at least seven.”
It’s the way Brick Township has won its games, outscoring opponents, 28-8, during that stretch. The team won its last two games by one goal, taking a two-goal margin into the closing seconds.
“We’re just working hard at practice and not having many turnovers,” junior Patrick Kearns said.
Kearns and Ryan Graf each scored two goals in the Dec. 18, 6-5 victory over Monsignor Donovan High School of Toms River. Brick Township beat Monsignor Donovan 6-1 earlier in the season.
“When we forecheck, there aren’t many breakouts on us,” Kearns said. “When they turn it [puck] over, we capitalize.”
Graf’s second goal, off a pass from Brendan Dowd, was an empty-netter with :37 seconds left as Monsignor Donovan (2-2-1) pulled the goalie for another attacker. Monsignor Donovan scored with nine seconds left after it again pulled the goalie for an extra attacker.
In its only other close game, the team took a 2-0 lead into the final moments before Toms River High School North pulled to 2-1.
Kearns said he is “a little bit surprised” at the team’s start. He is the lone experienced defender from last year’s team that reached the NJSIAA public school quarterfinals before a 1-0 loss to Randolph.
“We haven’t started this well in a long time,” said Mike Auriemma, Kearns’ cousin and the coach’s grandson. He centers the first line with fellow seniors Connor Noonan and Graf, whose six goals and five assists leads a balanced attack. Kearns and Matt Gumina, a junior who plays on the second line with sophomores Tyler Martin and center Dowd, each has four goals.
“I’m not surprised we’re doing well because we came out hard and were looking forward to the season so I’m not surprised, I’m excited,” Mike Auriemma said. “We’re all talking about it because we’re working hard and have been really clicking. We’re playing solid defense. We have confidence and can step up even more.”
Coach Auriemma said the first two lines are equal. The emergence of the young players has given the team “a lot more lift than I expected.”
“Passing has greatly improved,” said Auriemma, an ardent advocate of moving the puck off the stick as a much quicker way of getting it on the attack than skating it down ice. “We’re hitting our targets and breaking to open spots. And we’ve had coordination of the forwards and defense men for moving the puck.”
“Every single player has the potential to put the puck in the net and to play solid defense,” Mike Auriemma said.
The defense has been getting us out of trouble.”
He referred to goalkeepers senior Dylan Beaver and junior Ed Rafferty, who have split the time in the net. Rafferty ended last season as the regular goalie. But both have had shining moments at the outset, although Rafferty had to relieve Beaver against Monsignor Donovan.
Sophomore Brian Murphy joins Kearns on the defense and sophomore Tom Ramsthaler and freshman Tyler Iannacone are the second unit defensemen.
The team has made up for the loss of forwards Matt Dornacker, Mike Graf and Jesse Halleck and defensemen Bob Koste, Ken Bogert and Ryan Martin, who all graduated in June.
The team resumes its schedule after the holidays with the Toms River Christmas Tournament against Toms River North on Dec. 28, and Monsignor Donovan on Dec. 29. Senior wing Mike Lantieri returns after breaking his right hand and sophomore Austin Blanco has recovered from a broken leg. Blanco is being moved from defense to forward.
Brick Memorial, which also reached the state public school tournament quarterfinals, is off to a 3-1 start and comes off a 6-3 victory over Middletown North in which Anthony Lobianco scored five goals. Kevin Talty continues to progress as the new goalie, succeeding graduated standout Mike Vincent. Brick Memorial has been on a 20- 5 scoring tear since losing its opener, 1-0, to Howell on a power play goal in the closing minutes.
“I’m pleased with where we are,” coach Chip Bruce said. “We have to build our success.”
His team returns to action in the Jefferson Christmas Tournament against Hillsborough on Dec. 28.
Lobianco plays on the line with the sophomore Person twins, Adam at center and Tyler at left wing.
Tom Lindquist, who had the other goal against Middletown North, draws on two years of experience starting on defense. He is joined by Jason Franceshini.