Stafford Leader Southern Winter Sports Previews

Deep, Talented Southern Regional Ice Hockey Squad Looks to Improve Winning Percentage

By David Biggy | Dec 13, 2019
Photo by: David Biggy Southern Regional sophomore goaltender Trey Mattern was solid last season and is part of a deep and talented group of underclassmen who should be a huge benefit to the ice hockey team this winter.

Stafford Township, NJ — Last season, the goal for Dan Wasilewski was to set up a new culture within the Southern Regional High School ice hockey program, and the Rams definitely took a step in a new direction, finishing 12-4-4, largely with a young group of players willing to put the team first in every aspect. This winter, the Rams have much more experience and depth; now the second-year coach is ready to challenge his squad a bit more as it looks to take another leap forward.

“Our team has remarkable depth,” he said. “We have so many players with skill, grit and play-making ability that it allows us to truly carry four balanced lines up front. Our defensive ranks are coming off a very successful season statistically, and we’re looking to build on that. In net, three of our four goaltenders are underclassmen, and all four can compete on any given night.

“What I’m really trying to say is that there’s no weak link in our chain. This truly is a next man, or woman, up program, and we preach that every day.”

Well, there you have it, folks. The Rams are moving forward with power. The question now is whether they can score goals at critical times in games to turn last year’s four ties into victories and trim the losses a tad. Otherwise, this could be one of Southern’s best seasons in a long time.

“The strength of our schedule this season is going to be a challenge, but we anticipate that rolling depth and sticking to our systems will give us an opportunity to be successful,” Wasilewski said. “We have four pairs of siblings on this team, and this is a special group that knows we’re playing for family and honor every single night. Expect us to lay it all out there.”

Leading the way for the Rams this season are its five seniors – A.J. Brock, Justin Braun, Andrew Irwin, Zach Minafo and Jeff Leonard. Behind them is a deep and talented group of youngsters, starting with juniors Will DiStefano, Josh Irwin, Ryan High, Parker Lech, Richie Romano, Mason Hall, Corbin Siek and Brenden Hennessey.

The sophomore class, which proved to be a solid crew as freshmen, includes Yater Henry, Matt Leonard, Brooks Hradek, Trey Mattern, Kaitlyn Braun, Sam Centanni and Christopher Laureigh. Joining the team for their first season with the club are freshmen Matthew Brock, Matthew Raylman, Jake Smart, Bogard Kindt, Ryan Irwin, Brooke Markley, Chase Witt and Alexander Rosshirt.

“Positions are relative with this team,” Wasilewski said. “I have defenders who can play forward positions and forwards who can play defense on any given night. We have a big freshman class, so it’s hard to single out who might make a big impact, but Ryan Irwin, who’s big, physical and has good hands and skating ability, has looked strong during the preseason. Matthew Brock has the makings of a spry forward, and Matthew Raylman works hard and should round out our defensive depth.”

The Rams opened their season with three goals in the first period and went on to shut out Freehold Township, 6-0, on Dec. 8. Wasilewski’s squad dominated the contest, registering 57 shots on goal while Mattern made 11 saves in goal.

With 13:29 left in the first period, Minafo gave the Rams the only goal they needed when he buried an assist from Andrew Irwin, but Lech scored on a Justin Braun feed with 7:27 to go in the first, and Hradek made the margin a three-goal gap off assists from Minafo and Henry with 3:20 left in the first.

Laureigh set up Matt Leonard for the Rams’ fourth goal on a power play just 32 seconds into the second period, before Laureigh buried a Josh Irwin pass with 11:15 to go and Josh Irwin capped the scoring, with assists from Hradek and Andrew Irwin, with 53.8 seconds to go.

Southern Hoops Squads
Shooting for Improvement

Despite a few seniors leading the charge, the Southern boys basketball team had its ups and downs last season – more downs than ups, unfortunately. Under new head coach John Pampalone, the Rams are hoping to turn things in a better direction this winter, and they will rely heavily on a younger crew to do so.

“We look to improve on a sub-.500 record from last season,” Pampalone said. “We will look to use our size and defense to win games, and we’re hoping to finish above .500 and qualify for the Shore Conference and state tournaments.”

Southern is going to be led by senior guard Will DeVane and junior forward Jay Silva, both of whom played quality roles throughout last year’s 8-18 campaign, but to predict the scoring burden relies on them is difficult to say at this point. More than likely that won’t be the case, and the Rams will need more of their inexperienced players to rise and meet higher expectations.

Among that group will be senior guards Ben Ridgway, who played in a backup role a year ago, Matt Godfrey and Michael DelValle along with senior forwards Cole Robinson, Jake Hughes and Noah Wasacz. Juniors Ryan Leavitt (G), Luke Infurna (G) and Jake Barbierri (F), and sophomore Nick DeVane (G) round out this season’s roster.

The Rams open up on Saturday, Dec. 21, against Washington Township in the Coaches Vs. Cancer Invitational at Cherokee High School.

As for Tom Bucci’s girls, they, too, will be looking to improve on what turned out to be a sub-.500 season, and its senior class definitely will be the hinge point within the Rams’ system, as Kaela Curtin (G/F), Alex Mattner (G), Sam Del Rio (G/F), Katherine Walker (F/C) and Kylie Conner (G) lead the way.

Last season, Southern started off well, going 10-5 through its first 15 contests before injuries to key players dealt the Rams some difficult challenges, and they ended the season losing eight of their last 10 to finish 12-15.

Of course, Southern will not be able to rely only on its seniors, and juniors Ashley Altman (G), Kacey Kubarewicz (G) and Corrine Spina (G/F) likely will be asked to help add quality minutes, along with sophomores Sarah Lally (G/F), Casey McBride (G) and Summer Davis (G).

Bucci’s squad opens its season on Thursday, Dec. 19, at home against Shore Conference Class A South foe Toms River South.

— David Biggy

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