Ken Such had been away from coaching high school hockey, so there had to be somewhat of a transitional phase, since Such last year took over the St. Peter’s Prep head hockey coaching position he held back in the 1990s.
“Being away for 22 years, I learned that the big thing that has changed is the game is a lot faster now,” Such said after guiding the Marauders to a solid 12-11-2 record in his first season back behind the bench. “The players are faster, the game is faster. It’s a fast, fast game now. I always stressed defense when I was a coach, but I can’t slow things down now. We go. That’s the big change for me as a coach. We just go. That’s the way the game has progressed in 22 years.”
Such said that he still feels like the same coach he was two decades ago.
“I didn’t feel uncomfortable coaching last year,” Such said. “It’s just that the game is a little different and I’ve had to make some adjustments. I think the kids are comfortable with me. Everybody on the team has played for me at some point [with the Marauders’ junior varsity team that Such headed]/ I have a good relationship with the kids throughout their careers.”
Such put a junior-dominated squad onto the ice last year, so the majority of those players have all returned.
“No doubt about it, we have high expectations this year,” Such said. “Because of the number of seniors we have, kids with game experience, we have to expect to be better than last year. We have good senior leadership, so I believe we expect to be better. We have to build on what we did last year.”
Such’s optimism lies with the talents of senior left wing Matt Zdanowicz.
Zdanowicz tallied 27 goals and added 14 assists to lead the Marauders in scoring last year.
“He’s able to do so much with the puck,” Such said of Zdanowicz. “He can stick handle, he can shoot. He’s a strong player. He’s also a fun kid to watch. He always has a smile on his face. He’s able to do so much for us.”
Zdanowicz is off to a strong start in the young season, scoring three goals and tallying four assists in the Marauders’ two opening wins over Monsignor Farrell of Staten Island and Northern Highlands of Bergen County.
“He has a tremendous upside,” Such continued about his star frontline player. “He’s the guy for us.”
Also on Zdanowicz’s line is senior center Brendan Balatbat and junior right wing Aidan Seborowski. Balatbat had two assists in the first two games and Seborowski tallied one goal in each of the first two opening wins. Balatbat had eight goals last season
Senior Christian Della Rocco centers the Marauders’ second line. Della Rocco had 11 goals and 10 assists last season and has proven to be a top scorer. His line mates include senior Ty Pezzolla at left wing and junior Thomas Pelliccio at right wing. Pezzolla had 12 goals and eight assists last season.
Senior Matt Italiano and juniors James Ryan and Mike Canosa comprise the Marauders’ third line. There’s another change in the game of high school hockey since Such was last a head coach. Teams utilize three and even four lines now, when they used to utilize two lines if they were lucky back in Such’s first go-round.
“Teams are much deeper these days,” Such said.
The Marauders are deep between the pipes with two very capable and talented goalkeepers.
Seniors Dan Maher and Nate Bryant both have a ton of talent and a litany of experience.
“We’re blessed in that respect,” Such said of his goaltending tandem.
Bryant was the team’s starter as a sophomore, but unfortunately suffered two hip injuries that plagued him and required surgery. The injuries kept him off the ice until after the season started last year. Enter Maher, who stepped in admirably and won got the win in nine of the team’s 12 victories a year ago.
“Dan had the bulk of the work last season,” Such said. “So now we have two goaltenders who basically each has a year of experience under his belt. Both are going to play a lot. When the time comes, I’ll play the guy who has been playing the best. The good thing is that they’re not competitive with each other. They help each other and get along well together. They’re good, genuine kids who root for each other.”
The Marauders have a deep and talented defensive unit filled with senior leaders.
Seniors Phil DeCresce and Steve Prokop anchor the defense. DeCresce has been a varsity hockey player for three years.
“He’s a strong, powerful kid,” Such said. “He also has an excellent slap shot.”
Prokop had two assists in each of the first two games.
“I see him as a strong leader,” Such said of Prokop.
Junior James Ashe is another defenseman.
“He has good offensive skills,” Such said. “He handles the puck well.”
Seniors Augustus Valente and Nicolas Galop and sophomores Casey Truppner and Joe Blandon are other defensemen in Such’s rotation.
Other key reserves are senior Thomas Fitzhenry and juniors Maciej Kowalczyk and Pavol Spiska.
“I think the strong start just validates the hard work that the kids put in,” Such said. “If they take care of the little things both on and off the ice, it could be a very good season. The early wins only help to build confidence throughout the team.”
What will also build confidence is that the Marauders are using the Amerihealth Pavilion inside the Prudential Center for regular practice. It’s the same practice rink used by the New Jersey Devils.
Needless to say, it could be a fine season for the Marauders’ puck patrol…
Speaking of Prep, it was a fine day recently for the school’s baseball program, which saw three players sign National Letters of Intent to scholarships at major colleges. Players Kyle Hess (Notre Dame), Jeremiah Guzman (Liberty) and Jack Kramer (Sacred Heart) all signed letters last week…
The New Jersey Institute of Technology men’s basketball team is off to a 7-1 start, the school’s best in their NCAA Division I era, after defeating Drexel on the road recently. A lot of the credit for the Highlanders’ incredible start belongs to senior forward Mohamed Bendary and junior guard and co-captain Shyquan Gibbs, both of whom are proud products of Hall of Fame coach Bob Hurley’s program at St. Anthony. The school may be closed, but the basketball tradition lives on.
Bendary, a forward, and Gibbs, a point guard and son of Snyder head coach Shelton Gibbs, are both starters for head coach Brian Kennedy, who is doing a masterful job at NJIT. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com