WALL — Three years ago the mantra at St. John Vianney was, more or less, wait until these kids grow up.
Coach Mick Messemer and his club finished seven games under even that year, but the Lancers future was incredibly bright with a crop of skilled freshman leading the way, including top-line centerman John Gelatt, a first-pair pivot in John Kennedy, and burgeoning star between the pipes in Jeremy Connor.
To slightly alter a line from Roger Daltrey, the kids have proven to be alright, a statement supported by the Lancers hot start to this 2017-18 campaign, a stretch that has seen the Holmdel club open the new year with four consecutive victories…and it’s a string of success due much in part to the performance of Connor.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Howell’s Mylod named SportsFood.com Player of Week 1
“We were really excited to get into this season. This was the year we’d been waiting for,” Connor said in a recent interview. “We were determined to come out here and prove how good we actually are, and our record is a testament to that. We’ve had some real quality wins early on here, and I know we’re excited to keep it going.”
Through his play, Connor has displayed every bit of that focus and fortitude he describes in the statement above, as the junior closed out the second week of competition as the Shore Conference leader in save-percentage (.960), goal-against average (1.00) and victories (4), not to mention the fifth most saves (96) among local goaltenders.
Connor opened the new year by out-dueling one of the Garden State’s top netminders in Red Bank Catholic’s Ciaran McNelis, making 23 saves to log his third career shutout, two of which have now come against the Caseys.
The junior followed up with another divisional victory over Class A North foe Howell (Dec. 5), and helped St. John Vianney knock off Ocean County power Southern Regional (Dec. 6) by stopping 27 of 28, and 14 of 15 shots faced, respectively.
The Lancers closed out the second week of the year with an anticipated road tilt against another divisional titan in Middletown South, a game in which Connor shined once again, turning away 32 of 34 Eagles attempts to help secure a 5-2 triumph and take sole-possession of first place in the Class A North.
“This was a huge win for us against a really good team,” said Connor, who earned SportsFood.com Player of the Week honors. “They were in a state semifinal last year, so it really was a huge win for the guys, and it’s going to help us build momentum moving further into the year.”
Connor’s poise on the big stage continued on Dec. 12, when the junior led his Lancers into a meeting with Gordon Conference power St. Augustine, and ultimately to a 5-3 win over the Hermits after a 29-save performance.
“It’s great to see the hard work pay off. I put a lot of time in during the pre-season; I’ve played a lot of games with the [Jersey Shore Whalers 16U]. But it takes a team effort to get off to the type of start we’ve gotten off to.”
“I can’t say enough about how the guys are playing in front of me,” Connor added. “They’re scoring plenty of goals, and that insurance takes a lot of pressure off. The defense is playing absolutely incredible in front of me, clearing bodies and sticks and really making it easy for me to see pucks. I wouldn’t be having the success I am with them. They’ve done everything a goalie can ask for.”
Connor and St. John Vianney will be back at it on Tuesday, Dec. 19 against another divisional rival in Middletown North, when the Lions come to the Jersey Shore Arena for a 5:45 p.m. puck drop.
The Fan Favorite
The people have spoken, and they’ve made their voices heard in support of Freehold Township centerman Nike Neron.
In a Week 2 reader’s poll that saw nearly 13,000 votes cast, Neron received 51.19% of the vote, or 6,608 total votes.
The junior forward — who played his pre-season club hockey with the Jersey Shore Wildcats 16UAA program — received his nomination for SportsFood.com Player of the Week after making his mark in a Class A Central victory over divisional rival Manalapan.
The Patriots junior started the scoring in this contest with a power play tally at 7:20 of the opening period, before notching his second of the night with 10:05 remaining in regulation, the game-winning goal in a 3-2 triumph.
The performance was Neron’s first career multi-goal game, and through four outings the junior currently leads the Patriots in scoring with six points and four assists.
STARS OF WEEK 2
Jake LaRusso, St. John Vianney: The sophomore was stellar in Week 2, delivering eight points on five goals and three assists, including two tallies in wins over Howell and Southern Regional, and the game-winning power play marker against Middletown South.
Ryan Burns, Wall Township: The senior notched his second hat trick of the season and assisted on two more goals in a win over Old Bridge, logging his 100th career point in the process.
Deven Ralph, Middletown South: The senior winger delivered eight points in Week 2 with a hat trick effort against St. Rose, another tally against Toms River North and one more marker in a meeting with St. John Vianney.
Nick Swain, Jackson Memorial: The junior logged seven points and four goals in a pair of Class A South divisional victories over Brick Memorial and Toms River South-East.
Chris Repmann, Middletown North: In a pair of Week 2 wins over Class A North rivals Red Bank Catholic and St. Rose, Repmann recorded seven points on three goals and four assists.
Nick LaBianca, Jackson Liberty: The junior had a huge night against Brick Township with six goals and two helpers in a Class A South win over the Dragons.
Will Herrington, Point Boro: The sophomore centerman recorded five points on two goals and three assists in Week 2, while helping Point Boro to a tie with Rumson and two divisional victories over Jackson Liberty and Toms River North.
Anthony Galante & Jason Williams, Marlboro: The sophomore standouts helped the Mustangs to a 3-3 tie with Class A Central divisional rival Freehold Township, as Galante notched all three Mustangs goals, while Williams steered aside 31 of 34 shots.
Andrew Kutzman, Gabe Roman & Josh Gates, Freehold Boro: Kutzman notched two goal and assisted on tow more, while Roman registered another pair of markers and Gates turned away 26 of 28 in a Class A Central win over Red Bank Regional.
Matt Condello & Sean Hughes, Central Regional: The dynamic duo each logged a hat trick and assisted on another in an 8-4 victory over Class A Central rival Freehold Boro.