Rodriguez taking on leadership role with St. Joe’s ice hockey team

By JIMMY ALLINDER Correspondent

 Felipe Rodriguez Felipe Rodriguez Most athletes admit they got hooked on a sport the moment they could hold a basketball, throw a baseball or catch a football.

That’s not how it was for Felipe Rodriquez, who plays left wing for the St. Joseph High School ice hockey team. When Rodriguez’ father first enrolled the 5-yearold in a peewee hockey program, the youngster would grudgingly get in the car for the ride to practice, crying along the way because he didn’t want to go.

That attitude changed radically when Rodriguez realized ice hockey was actually fun and that skating on ice came naturally to him.

“I’ll admit, even though I played ice hockey at a young age, I wasn’t too keen at the beginning,” the Franklin Township native said. “My father, Felipe, urged me to continue playing, though, because he knew I had ability. He was right. After I got through the initial period [of adjustment], I just continued to play.”

Rodriguez is now entering his senior year at St. Joe’s, and is the leading returning pointscorer on a team that finished 18-3-3 and was clearly head-and-shoulders above the rest of the Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC), as it finished with an unbeaten record and won the conference title game over Old Bridge High School, 4-1. St. Joe’s, in fact, has been GMC champion in each of the three years a title game has been contested.

Rodriguez was plenty busy last season, as he collected 22 goals to place him second on the team to graduated Nathaniel “NG” Welsh, who managed 25. Rodriguez also assisted on 14, not only demonstrating his versatility as a scorer, but as a valuable playmaker, too. The two highlights of the season were the four-goal effort he notched in a victory over Edison High School, and the three goals and three assists he notched against J.P. Stevens High School.

Before he played high school hockey, Rodriguez flourished in area youth leagues because of his raw skills. So when it came time to choose where to attend high school, he picked St. Joe’s, partly because of the Falcons’ quality program. His hometown high school didn’t offer hockey, so that sealed the deal.

“But it wasn’t only the quality of the ice hockey program that led me to pick St. Joe’s over our public high school,” Rodriguez said. “The reputation for offering an outstanding academic program had a lot to do with me deciding to go to St. Joe’s.”

It turned out to be the right decision in many respects. Rodriquez is a bright student, but he admits that he needed the “right environment” to take advantage of opportunities the parochial high school afforded. “Junior year was tough,” he said. “I knew I had to work extra hard to get my grades up to an acceptable level in preparation for college.”

Rodriguez immersed himself in the books, learning how to balance the fine line between playing varsity ice hockey and keeping up with the demands of school.

“I actually don’t think it’s too difficult, but it takes a deliberate decision to focus on school,” he said. “Managing time is a problem for athletes, no matter what sport they play, but the solution comes down to how hard they want to work to maintain good grades.”

Rodriquez discovered the solution and enters his senior year with an “A” average. He will now be faced with the decision as to where he can go to college, and he has a few schools in mind. He will not reveal them, but plans to use part of the summer to take an “in-depth” look at what they offer in terms of academic and athletics.

That doesn’t necessarily mean Rodriquez will enroll in a Division I college program, but he would like to play hockey somewhere.

“Felipe definitely has the ability to play college hockey,” said his coach, Ryan Carter. “His best assets are his skating ability and outstanding shot. Felipe skates fast, but [he] can change speed and direction on a dime. He also has a great one-timer [shot].”

Because St. Joe’s graduated 10 seniors, Carter is counting on Rodriguez to be one of the Falcons’ leaders. Rodriguez knows that and embraces the challenge.

“Once the puck is dropped, I essentially make sure everybody is doing the right things and playing the best we can,” he said. “If we aren’t, I try and help us get to the right level, and that starts with me making sure I’m in the best position to score goals and pushing our team, as well.”

Rodriguez said he has become a quality scorer by heeding the advice a number of coaches have given him through the years. He especially appreciates the mentoring by Carter.

“I’ve been playing for him for three years now, and he’s made a major impact on my life, on and off the ice,” Rodriguez said.

Off the ice, Rodriguez spends much of his time doing schoolwork, but said he likes to be involved in activities such as flag football and ultimate Frisbee, to name a few.

“They are a lot of fun and keep me busy,” he said.

He hopes to improve in the scoring department, in addition to helping his team win another GMC title and go far in the state tournament. There will be no reluctance on his part to help make that happen.