philly.com

Crusaders skate past St. Augustine 8-1

December 13, 2008

The fans had painted their bodies in school colors, ready to give Bishop Eustace that extra edge.

On this day, surprisingly, that little bit extra wasn't needed. Bishop Eustace's ice hockey team entered the season with high expectations and did nothing to lessen that hope with yesterday's 8-1 win over rival St. Augustine at the Pennsauken Skate Zone.

Even though there are only five NJSIAA ice hockey teams in South Jersey, Eustace and St. Augustine have proven for several years how competitive they are among the best the state has to offer.

In 2007, St. Augustine won the state Non-Public title. Last season the Hermits lost to Delbarton in the state-title game.

Eustace advanced to the state semifinals last season.

With the recent success by both schools, it's no wonder why there was so much anticipation and such a big crowd for yesterday's game.

"We've been so competitive with each other and all the best players tend to gravitate to these two schools," Eustace coach Mike Green said.

It's likely that more of the top players have gravitated to Eustace this season. The Crusaders had the much-more-experienced team, one that was bigger, faster, stronger and deeper.

St. Augustine has started the season 0-4 while playing its usual treacherous schedule. Coach Tim Fingerhut estimates he lost about 18 players from last year's team, with 13 graduating seniors and another handful that transferred, mainly to prep schools.

Fingerhut has been going with a handful of freshmen, including John Stevens, whose father knows a little bit about the game as the coach of the Flyers.

Those young players, Stevens included, could be the foundation of a bright future, but right now St. Augustine is a little short in the seasoning department.

Still, with the Hermits' history, this still could be a team that nobody relishes playing once they get some experience.

"Right now we want to focus on getting better and want to peak by late January and February," Fingerhut said.

Eustace may not have peaked, but the Crusaders (3-0) couldn't have come out of the gate any better.

On Tuesday, Eustace beat defending state champion Delbarton, 4-2, snapping the Green Wave's 25-game win streak.

If there was any fear of a letdown, it was alleviated when Eustace scored the first six goals of yesterday's game.

What made the win so impressive was the Crusaders' balance. Seven players scored the eight goals. Jamie Hill had two goals and the others were scored by Chris Tracy, Mike Durelli, Mark Constantine, Connall Guckin, Chris Gentile and Dylan Lamorte.

Goalie Nick Casella made several strong saves. Defenseman Zach Green, son of the coach, had two assists and was a tower of strength on the backline.

"We have a lot of balance and today it showed," said Constantine, who had two assists along with his goal.

Constantine was really impressed by the student support of the team. He especially enjoyed the face and body painting.

"It was wild," he said, laughing.

Of course nobody has ever won a championship before Christmas, and Eustace realizes that it's a long season.

The schedule is extremely difficult but this group appears ready to take on the best teams in the state and beyond.

Meanwhile, circled on St. Augustine's calendar is a rematch on Jan. 9 against Eustace at Hollydell in Washington Township.

"We really look forward to playing them again," Fingerhut said.

Schools may look forward to the challenge, but may not be so happy with the results against a Eustace team that is showing its true colors, even without the added body paint.

 


Contact staff writer Marc Narducci at 856-779-3225

or mnarducci@phillynews.com.