Head Coach: Matt Hayes, Fourth season (53-18-9)
Record last year: 18-8-1 (Class A South Champions; Dowd Cup Finalist)
Division/Classification: Class A South/Public A
Home Rink: Winding River Skating Center
OPENING DRAW: Over the past three seasons Southern Regional has been one of winningest programs in the Shore Conference, registering victories in exactly 75% of their games — an overall record of 44-12-8 — while securing a pair of Class A South Division Championships (2015, 2017) and a 2016 Shore Conference Dowd Cup title. Despite losing a skilled senior class to graduation, including Jack Conrad, Reno D’Agostini, Nicholas Englebert, Tyler Golomb and Trent Markley, those returning Rams standouts still have their program in position to continue the winning tradition.
DIVISION RIVAL: Jackson Liberty enters 2017-18 with dynamic trio
KEYES TO VICTORY: Southern Regional will head into opening night with one the premier two-way players in the Shore Conference penciled into their top line center position. Paul Keyes (12g, 27a), who enters the new year off a career campaign in which he led the Rams in scoring with 39 points, is the epitome of what every coach hopes their captain will be. The way in which he leads on and off the ice is unrivaled, and when the Rams need him most is when Keyes is at his best. He had 16 points in eight games against Class A South opponents last season, including a goal and two helpers in a pivotal 4-3 rivalry victory over Jackson Memorial (Jan. 20) and a pair short-handed tallies — including the game-winner — in the third period of a Division Championship-clinching win over Toms River South. After a pre-season spent skating with the Jersey Shore Whalers 18U program, Keyes — who enters the year with 72 career points — is primed for another special campaign with the Rams.
DIVISION RIVAL: Toms River South & East join forces in 2017-18
OFFENSIVE END: Keyes may be leading the way, but he has some skilled wingers working aside him. Most notably is David Lytle, who broke out in a big way as a junior with career-highs in points (35), goals (24) and assists (11). However, it was his finish to the 2016-17 season — a four-goal game against Old Tappan in the Public A State Tournament — and his success in the pre-season with the Toms River Blackhawks 18UA outfit — he finished second in team scoring with 26 points in 18 games — that has all eyes on the sharp-shooting winger.
Keyes helped his Whalers outfit capture an East Coast Classic College Cup Tournament title in the fall, and he and Lytle will be joined be a couple of teammates from that 18U championship team in Hunter Bello — who also had career-highs in goals (14) and assists (13) as a junior — and Nolan Ruff — a two-way grinder who throws the body and closed out his 2016-17 season with two goals against Old Tappan and another against Princeton in the Public A State Tournament.
The forward core will also feature seniors and Toms River Blackhawks 18UA teammates Joe Harper (3g, 10a), Matt Constantino (2g, 2a) and Matt Flynn (3g, 4a), as well as juniors Joe Cajzer (4g, 4a) — who skated in the AYHL a season ago with the New Jersey Jr. Titans — and Bryan Janizewski (4g, 1a), and Toms River Blackhawks 16UA standout Andrew Irwin (1g, 3a) — who notched 28 points in 17 NJYHL games this fall — and his sophomore youth hockey teammate Andrew Garcia.
CONRAD IN THE CREASE: His older brother Jack graduated last season as one of the best forwards in program history and Cam Conrad has begun to cement himself as another all-time great in this Southern program. Conrad emerged as one of the best goaltenders in the Shore Conference a season ago, and will enter his third season as a full-time starter on opening night. The backbone of this club’s recent string of success, Conrad (Jersey Shore Whalers 18U) closed out the 2016-17 season as the local leader in both save-percentage (.917) and goals-against average (1.91) in 23 starts. He was even better against Class A South opponents, posting a .927 save-percentage and 1.68 goals-against average in 10 combined regular and post-season outings, and should build on those numbers in his final scholastic campaign.
THE DEFENSIVE END: The graduation of Markley, Golomb and D’Agostini can’t be discounted, but the Rams have a new young core of defenseman to build around in juniors Shaun High (1a), sophomore Justin Braun — who led all Toms River Blackhawks 16UA blue liners in scoring with 13 points this pre-season — and incoming freshman Josh Irwin (Toms River Blackhawks Bantam AA). The trio will be led by returning senior Ray Luedtke (6a).
CLASS A SOUTH ALIGNMENT
Toms River North