By Matthew Rocco
Hockey is a big sport in Jonathan Pierce’s house. His father played hockey. His older brother did, too. So when he was just 8 years old, Pierce laced up his skates for the first time. He played as a forward but after discovering he had asthma, Pierce had to find a position that wasn’t as physically demanding. He soon found a home in the net.
Pierce, who took up lacrosse as an eighth-grader, was focused on playing hockey at his new school, Red Bank Regional High School. The varsity lacrosse team was in need of a goalie, though. Pierce was asked if he was interested. He accepted the new challenge, and it paid off.
Four years later, Pierce has made history as the first New Jersey high school athlete to record 1,000 saves in ice hockey and lacrosse. The Susquehanna University-bound senior is now the all-time leader in Shore Conference lacrosse, amassing 1,003 saves in his Red Bank Regional career. Pierce also earned the 2016 Jersey Sporting News Ice Hockey Player of the Year award for his success on the ice.
“A few years before I started playing goalie, my brother put me in goal in the driveway with pads that were way too big for me. I don’t know why. But I knew it was something I wanted to do,” Pierce said.
Pierce’s favorite goalie was none other than former New Jersey Devils star Martin Brodeur.
“I tried to copy everything he did,” he said.
Pierce eventually found his own style of play, and he brought that same style onto the lacrosse field. Pierce said he’s not your average lacrosse goalie because he uses his body more than other goalies.
Red Bank Regional’s head lacrosse coach, Kevin Main, said Pierce emulates a hockey goaltender when he’s on the field.
“We had such confidence in his abilities to make those saves that we were able to adjust to a zone defense and invite the other team to shoot from the outside. That took some pressure off our younger defensive players,” Main said.
Pierce gained a reputation as a leader on both teams. In addition to serving as a senior captain for the hockey team, Pierce was a lacrosse captain in his junior and senior years. Main said his standout goalie was instrumental in helping the Buccaneers’ young defenders.
“Jon would only offer constructive criticism and would never get down on his teammates. A true leader leads by example — a good comprehensive player showing them the way lacrosse should be played,” Main said.
Red Bank Regional’s assistant ice hockey coach, Michael DeCotis, said Pierce is a team player who prefers to win a championship than collect individual honors.
“On the day he got his 1,000th save, I congratulated him, but he wasn’t even that happy as he was more concerned about our team loss in that game,” DeCotis said.
The Buccaneers’ hockey team had a difficult season, going 2-18 overall. The boys lacrosse squad posted a 9-11 record and placed fourth in Shore Conference Class B North.
Pierce, a Shrewsbury resident, will attend Susquehanna University on an academic scholarship and play lacrosse for the Pennsylvania school. Coaches have seen firsthand how Pierce and his quiet leadership, as DeCotis called it, makes the whole team better. Pierce aims to continue providing that leadership in college.
“I think I won’t be much of a vocal leader as a freshman, but I definitely want to be that person later on,” Pierce said. “I want the energy to come off me and spread to everyone else.”
The young goalie will compete with three others for a starting job at Susquehanna. But even more, Pierce wants the team to be on top.
“I want to start, and I want to win a championship. I just to win. I guess at Red Bank, I’m known as a quiet leader. I want to bring that to Susquehanna, but I also want to be more vocal,” he said.
Pierce won’t be making the transition to college alone. On June 17, the triplet will graduate alongside his sisters, Isabella and Victoria. Isabella Pierce is heading to Susquehanna with her brother, and Victoria Pierce will compete in crew at the College of the Holy Cross.
“Our freshman year, we moved to a whole new school system. It wasn’t easy, but we were always there for each other. It will definitely help in college knowing I have my sister with me. We’re best friends,” Jonathan Pierce said.
Pierce credits his family with helping him on the field as well. His parents were high-school athletes, his grandfather played football at the University of Mississippi and his older brother was a football player at Union College.
“They know what it’s like out there [on the field]. They are always on my side. I’ve had terrible games, and they helped me bounce back to have my best games,” Pierce said. “They are always cheering me on the sidelines.”