ST. JOHN VIANNEY
Head Coach: Mick Messemer, Fourth season (33-25-11)
Record last year: 11-8-4 (Shore Conference Handchen Cup Finalist)
Division/Classification: Class A North/Non-Public
Home Rink: Jersey Shore Arena
OPENING DRAW: St. John Vianney’s top six forwards can match up with anyone in the state. The Lancers’ defensive unit is skilled, experienced and as deep as anyone in the Shore Conference. And did I mention they have one of the best local goaltenders around? They may have lost the dynamic sibling duo of Matt and Mike Franzoni, but this Lancers team is young, fast and hungry to prove itself not only as the top program in Monmouth and Ocean County, but one of the best in the state.
THE FIRST LINE: The graduation of James O’Keefe, Max Allen and Ty Buckley will absolutely be felt, but with juniors John Gelatt and John Gutt, and a sophomore phenom in Jake LaRusso, the Lancers feature three of the most elite talents in not only the Shore Conference, but in the state of New Jersey.
Gelatt (14g, 22a) — who is dominating the Atlantic Youth Hockey League (AYHL) with 25 points on 14 goals and 11 assists in just 13 league games with the New Jersey Colonials — has manned the top line center position since he entered the St. John Vianney as a freshman, and has amassed 59 total points in two full seasons of varsity competition.
Gutt (6g, 6a) — who currently leads the Jersey Shore Whalers 16U program with 17 points on six goals and 11 helpers over the course of a tough USPHL schedule — will be on Gelatt’s wing after a 12-point sophomore campaign in which he missed half of 2016-17 scholastic season due to an upper body injury. Now fully healthy, Gutt’s return to the Shore Conference level is a highly anticipated one.
If you’re unfamiliar with LaRusso (2g, 4a) it won’t be for long, as the sophomore will skate opposite Gutt after a freshman year spent on the blue line. Since his inaugural high school campaign came to close, LaRusso has emerged as one of the top 2002-born talents in the country, earning an invitation this past summer to the USA Hockey Development Camp, and upon returning home has been a force for the New Jersey Jr. Titans 15U club with 20 points on 13 goals and seven assists in 12 games. His 1.67 points per-game leads the AYHL 15U Division.
DIVISION RIVAL: Wall Township has state championship aspirations in 2017-18
DEPTH OF OFFENSIVE TALENT: Senior winger Brett Schneider — a New Jersey Jr. Titans 18U skater with 76 career high school points — only dressed midway through the 2016-17 season after transferring from Toms River North, and he’ll work alongside another Toms River North import in sophomore Mike Frattaroli, who logged 15 points for the Mariners in half of freshman season, and is currently the second-leading scorer for the Jersey Shore Whalers 16U Futures team. Another senior in Kevyn Rigatti returns to the Lancers after consecutive 16-point seasons, and enters off an 18-game slate of NJYHL action with the Princeton Tigers 18UAA team, for which he was a top five scorer and finished tied for second with 10 tallies.
Sophomore returner Dom Troisi (1g) — who skates with LaRusso for the Jr. Titans — and senior Joe Zani (1g, 3a) will be counted upon for larger contributions, as will first-year varsity skaters like juniors Colin Meany (Jersey Shore Whalers Elite) and Joe Deatherage (Jersey Shore Wildcats 18UAA) and sophomore Jeff Ricci.
DIVISION RIVAL: St. John Vianney a state power in 2017-18
CONNOR IN THE CREASE: Jeremy Connor enters his junior year with two seasons as a full-time varsity starter under his belt. The Hazlet native and Jersey Shore Whalers 16U keeper — who has posted a .926 save-percentage and a 1.62 goals-against average in 11 USPHL starts — has been one of the best young talents the Shore Conference has seen in the crease over the past two years, and is expected to take another big step forward this season. He’ll be pushed by incoming freshman Sal Benvenuto (Jersey Shore Whalers 16U Futures), who has a .937 save-percentage and 1.11 goals-against average in 15 USPHL appearances.
THE DEFENSIVE END: Despite Derek Golkin and James Rivelli walking at graduation, and David Parker transferring to Lawrenceville Prep, the Lancers will return four of their top seven defensemen from a 2016-17 season in which they allowed just 2.7 goals-per game in 23 contests, and even held CBA two tallies in a 2-1 loss to the Colts. St. John Vianney’s defensive unit will be led a by a skilled junior and burgeoning standout in John Kennedy (Jersey Shore Whalers 16U) and a pair of senior leaders in Dylan Raskin (Red Bank Generals 18UAA) and Mike Zani (Jersey Penguins 18UAA), who combined for two goals and four assists in their junior year. Sophomore Rich Kulaszewksi is ready to take the next step after a skating with the New Jersey Rockets 16U program, where he’s shown grit and great feet on the blue line. Sophomores Evan Knoll (New Jersey Jr. Titans 15U) and Jake Deatherage (Jersey Shore Wildcats 16UA) will see their first varsity action this season, and are expected to see sizable minutes.
FRESHMAN TO WATCH: New Jersey Devils Youth Bantam Major teammates A.J. Micalizi and Ryan Kulazewski are expected to make immediate impacts at their respective positions, the former in the defensive zone and the latter up front.
CLASS A NORTH ALIGNMENT