MIDDLETOWN — Upon earning a an invitation to the USA Hockey Select 15 camp this past July in Amherst, NY, Jake LaRusso joined some exclusive company in the Jersey Shore hockey community.
Since these revered developmental camps were founded in 2013, bringing together the top young talent from around the nation at the 15U, 16U and 17U levels for a week long training session and game competition, only a handful of skaters from Monmouth and Ocean County have been called upon to appear.
It’s a short-list that includes the likes of Cam Dineen (Toms River – Arizona Coyotes), Bobby Hampton (Middletown North/CBA – Northeastern), Zach Berzolla (Freehold Township – Colorado College), Khristian Acosta (Middletown North – UMass-Amherst), Julian Kislin (Freehold Township – Northeastern), Jimmy Dowd Jr. (Point Pleasant Beach – Penn State), Ryan Bogan Jr. (CBA – Northeast Generals), Derek Contessa (CBA – Shreveport Mudbugs) and Zach Noble (Toms River East – Aberdeen Wings).
LaRusso Inspired by Local Standouts
According to LaRusso the experience of skating in such a highly-skilled setting was eye-opening, but realizing the company he now keeps at the local level truly puts this accomplishment into perspective.
“It’s something special to be mentioned with those guys,” LaRusso said. “I’ve grown up watching the, and their highlights in the Asbury Park Press and the Shore Sports Zone. I watched them dominate high school and their youth leagues, and then you see them go off to these development camps and it becomes your goal to get there.”
“These guys have gone on to do some great things,” LaRusso added. “They’re playing high levels of junior hockey in the USHL and NAHL. They’re going on to play in college, and it’s like, wow, right now I’m on the same path they are. What they’ve accomplished has given me a lot to work toward in the future.”
A Boost in Confidence After USA Development Camp Invite
LaRusso has certainly been putting forth an inspired effort since returning home to skate for New Jersey Jr. Titans 15U outfit, as he currently leads the club in scoring with 15 points on 10 goals and five assists through the organization’s first nine games of the Atlantic Youth Hockey League (AYHL) season.
It’s a performance he credits to a boost in confidence after his outing in Amherst.
“It’s a definite confidence booster to go out there and put up good points and play well in front of all those scouts in attendance. It gives you a bunch of confidence when you come back home and are playing against kids that weren’t there; kids you earned a spot over. It’s absolute fuel and motivation to go out there and dominate the game,” said the 2002-born phenom, who leads the AYHL 15U Pure league with 1.67 points per-game.
LaRusso showcased his immense skillset and poise at Middletown Ice World on Oct. 14 in a tilt with Garden State rival the North Jersey Avalanche, a game in which the Colts Neck native picked up the primary assist on a goal by Gio Crepaldi (Brick Township – CBA) and registered three more — including a short-handed tally and the game-winner with 22 seconds remaining in regulation — to lead the Jr. Titans to a 6-5 victory.
“Playing for the Titans, it’s such a great organization to be a part of,” LaRusso said. “There are guys playing above you who are already committed [to play in college]. There are guys around you who will be committed. And we’re playing against some very talented guys in the AYHL and NAPHL [North American Prospects Hockey League]. I feel myself getting better each time I come on the ice with this program. The coaching and competition is helping us develop into men out here.”
An Anticipated Return to St. John Vianney
If LaRusso is dominating his respective youth hockey competition — through six AYHL games he has 12 points on nine goals and three assists, placing him fifth in scoring among all skaters, and first in points per-game through Oct. 14 action — this penman is waiting with anticipation to see what he’ll do at the high school level, as the winger will return to St. John Vianney for his sophomore campaign.
Due to a log jam of talent at the forward position in 2016-17, LaRusso was forced to play on the blue line for the Lancers as a freshman, and still managed to log six points on two goals and four helpers.
However, with the recently confirmed transfer of Matt and Mike Franzoni from St. John Vianney to their districted program at Manasquan, a first line position alongside Shore Conference standout centerman John Gelatt appears to be the likely move for third-year Lancers coach Mick Messemer…and LaRusso can’t wait for opening night.
“I’m pumped. Mick is a great coach and I think this year we’re going to have a really special team. Overall I think it’s going to be a real fun year for me and the boys. And I can’t wait to get back out there in front of our home crowd with our friends and family.”
St. John Vianney opens up at home (Jersey Shore Arena) on Tuesday, Nov. 28 when local parochial rival and Class A North divisional foe Red Bank Catholic comes to town for a 5:45 p.m. matchup.