Jackson Liberty looking for wins in key slate of ice hockey games


I n its third season, Jackson Liberty High School’s ice hockey team is one victory away from its most wins in school history coming into this week, and it has rekindled hopes of making the Shore Conference B South and state tournaments.

“You really can’t look too far ahead, but this could potentially be a favorable part of the schedule,” coach Bob Acropolis said of his 5- 8 team that snapped a four-game losing streak with its second victory this season over Freehold High School, 5-1, on Jan. 19 behind a balanced scoring attack. “We can make the division playoffs if we win four of our next six games.”

In its first season under Acropolis two years ago, Jackson Liberty got most of its five wins late in the season and the coach sees a similar possibility for this year’s team.

“That’s what we’re looking at, to see if we can get back to .500,” he said. “It was nice seeing quality offense that I hadn’t seen in the previous four games. We had some quality shots and were set up with room to make plays.”

The key stretch from here starts with a Jan. 23 game at Howell Ice World against well-regarded Wall High School and continues the next day at Manasquan High School, both division rivals. On Jan. 29, Jackson Liberty plays host to Hightstown High School at Jersey Shore Arena before playing Manalapan High School on Jan. 30, Toms River High School South on Feb. 1, division opponents Monsignor Donovan High School on Feb. 2 and Point Pleasant Borough High School on Feb. 9.

“I’m really confident in our team,” goalkeeper Anthony Severino said. “We needed a game like this [against Freehold] to get us going.”

Freshman wing Sean Clarke, who starts on a young first line with sophomore center Cole Moskal and freshman Joe Low, scored two goals against Freehold in what Acropolis called his “breakout game.” Low had two assists.

On the season, Low has eight goals and eight assists, while Acropolis said Moskal, with 11 points this season, cashes in on opportunities in front off rebounds and scrambles in front of the net.

Moskal scored his first three goals of the season when Jackson

Liberty beat Monroe Township High School, 4-2, to even its record to 4-4 before losing four straight.

The welcome victory came after the Liberty Lions lost to some of the best teams on their schedule, falling to Point Pleasant Borough, Southern Regional High School, Marlboro High School and Red Bank Regional High School leading up to the Freehold game.

Acropolis said the key is that the scoring has to pick up and Severino, who recently regained his starting assignment, has to turn away shots.

“We play good team defense and block shots, but if our goalie can make good plays and we can get good shots and score on them, that’s the key,” Acropolis said. “Our goalie is playing better of late and he’s made a conscious effort to work harder.”

“I feel we match up well with any team we play because we play hard,” Severino said, as he credited the leadership and play on the back line of junior captain Mike Braun.

“[He] has been a rock back there,” said Acropolis regarding Braun, who is paired up with freshman Tyler Melnick. “He has really stepped up as a true leader on the team.”

The coach also praised Connor Moschetti, who agreed to move from his customary forward position to the thin defense, where he plays on the second unit with freshman Nick Uliano.

“He’s one of the better forwards in our division and he sacrificed playing forward, which he loves, to go on defense to help the team and has played well,” Acropolis said. Kyle Tomsky, the other senior on the team besides Severino, has centered the third line and earned praise from his coach for “really solidifying” that line with two freshmen.

“It’s also his defensive play and his hustle, which has brought them together and allowed me to get that line out there more often,” Acropolis said.

Also welcome back to the lineup for this big stretch is junior forward Willie Rappleyea, who was out with a fractured knee that he suffered while blocking a shot right after a season opening victory over Jackson Memorial High School, which Acropolis said remains the team’s best game of the season. Rappleyea scored a goal in that 3-1 victory, as did Moskal and Moschetti.