In the entirety of New Jersey High School Hockey’s vast history, there’s never been a coaching vacancy quite like the one at Brick Township.
This past summer when the legendary Bob Auriemma relinquished his post behind the Dragons bench — leaving behind an unrivaled resume` as the winningest coach in state history — the question remained: Who would be the heir to the icon’s throne of 54 years?
The inquiry recently found an answer in the form of Auriemma’s longtime assistant, and a former top pair defenseman for the Dragons, James Murphy.
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“I feel honored to have been able to work so closely to him, right by his side, for a few years,” Murphy said in a recent interview. “I learned so much from him in that time, not just about systems and training, but about life; about how to conduct yourself day in and day out.”
“I look back on that time now and I realize that I gained all this knowledge from [Auriemma], and for so many of those lessons he never had to say a word,” Murphy added. “He wouldn’t necessarily tell me things. But just by watching him and the way he carried himself, I was able to learn so much…It was an absolute privilege.”
Taking the Reins From a Legend
Murphy takes over for a 2010 New Jersey High School Hockey Hall of Fame inductee whose 719 career victories are a state record. Included in that total are six overall state championship triumphs, five more public state titles victories, eight Gordon Cup finals wins and four Shore Conference crowns.
In a short and overly-simplified synopsis of those totals…It’s a lot to live up to for any successor, but according to Murphy, he can’t help but feel calm and comfortable stepping into the role.
“His are incredibly large shoes to fill, but I feel comfortable…more comfortable than I thought I would be. I’m not entirely sure why, but I know last season had a lot to do with it.”
Murphy referenced a stretch of games during the 2016-17 campaign in which Auriemma was sidelined for several weeks due to a bout with pneumonia.
Though they weren’t ideal conditions under which he made his Shore Conference coaching debut, Murphy credits that stint and the experience he gained for his feeling of preparedness heading into the new year.
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“Obviously I think we all would have rather had [Auriemma] healthy, but he gave me the opportunity to take the reins. He stayed with me very step of the way, talking me through practices and preparation, and giving me advice heading into each game. But having that experience has really helped me feel comfortable stepping into this position.”
Uncharted Terrain for Murphy & Brick Township
Despite a serene sensation in his new post, Murphy is cognizant that just as he is tip-toeing into uncharted terrain, so to are his skaters, who have known nothing but the lore and tradition of Auriemma.
“I spoke to the kids about it during dry land workouts this summer, and they understand what’s going on. They get it. As well as having a legendary coach step down, we’ve also had quite a few top end guys leave the past the couple of years. But they’re ready to carry this program forward. They know it’s going to be a challenge and they’re not backing down from it. Just as I see this as a great opportunity, I think they do too. We want to take ownership of this program, and we’re excited about it.”
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The Dragons watched a 50-point scorer in JT Maloney (32g, 19a) and an All-Shore Conference caliber blue-liner in Michael Mooney (17g, 10a) walk at graduation in June, but their departure leaves an opening for the club’s new leadership core of Noah Reiss, Spencer Rozell and Hunter Price to emerge.
Reiss — the younger brother of former Dragons star Andrew Reiss (139p, 77g, 62a) — will enter the year after registering 20 points on seven goals and 13 assists as a junior. Rozell, a junior, followed up with 14 points by way of five tallies and nine helpers. Price is senior defenseman with enough skill to take over a game at both ends of the ice, and will look to improve upon his junior campaign numbers, in which he logged three goals and six assists.