Colts picking up wins as state ice hockey tourney nears


By Wayne Witkowski

Christian Brothers Academy’s (CBA) ice hockey team has shown in the month of January that it is gearing up for another run to the NJSIAA Non-Public state championship game.

During that time, the Colts have gone 7-1-1 — their latest game being a 4-0 victory Jan. 22 against Gordon Division rival Bergen Catholic High School.

CBA, which is 13-3-3 overall, raised its Gordon Division record to 2-3-1 with the victory over a team that is winless in the division but played to a 3-3 tie with CBA earlier in the season.

CBA broke open a 1-0 lead off John Cernero’s goal in the second period with goals in the third period by Nic Dietrich, Corey Clifton and Tim Grable.

“We played the game for three periods,” CBA coach Ryan Bogan said. “We went away from that in the third period the first time we played them when we gave up a two-goal lead and stopped skating.”

Bogan and his players have been eager for a run in the state tournament and will be shooting for a seventh state title since being denied in last year’s finals, 3-1, to familiar foe Delbaron School, which earned its 11th state title. CBA beat Delbarton, 4-3, in the 2015 championship game.

“We’re slowly building toward something,” Bogan said. “That’s how we play the season. We want experience for our underclassmen. We’re building for the future every year. Sometimes we take our lumps while the younger players are buying into the system, learning the system.”

How ready CBA is for playoff pressure can be better measured by the next two games on its schedule. On Jan. 25, CBA was slated to face St. Augustine Preparatory School (7-4-1), which handed CBA its only loss this month: 4-1 on Jan. 6. It came two days after an impressive 3-1 victory over Don Bosco Preparatory High School.

That game is followed by meeting Jan. 31 against Delbarton, which is 15-0-1 and beat the Colts, 3-1, Dec. 21.

Since the loss Jan. 6 to St. Augustine, CBA has won its last four games and outscored its last six opponents, 26-4, including a 4-1 victory over Seton Hall Preparatory School Jan. 18. Dean DiFazio and Clifton scored four minutes apart in the first period, and Nicholas Lidondici put in the other two goals in the third period at Jersey Shore Arena in Wall. Brendan Behan turned away 23 shots in CBA’s goal, letting in one shot in the second period.

Bogan believes the win against Seton Hall Prep was his team’s best performance of the season.

“We’re starting to ratchet it up now,” the coach said.

What is needed most from here is the mental approach to the game.

“The biggest thing is commitment to each other and to the team,” Bogan said.

What makes his team such a scouting nightmare for opposing coaches is that they never know which players will start and exactly what positions they’ll play. That’s where commitment plays a major role.

John D’Amelia leads the way with nine goals and 10 assists, and DiFazio and Clifton each have eight goals with 10 and seven assists, respectively. Twelve players have scored — seven of them with five or more goals. After D’Amelia’s 18 points, eight other players are in double figures.

Lidondici has been a boost coming back from an early-season injury, and he has seven goals and six assists over the last 11 games.

“We have a little bit more scoring by depth than in the past few years,” Bogan said.

There is also depth in net, where Jake Brown has started most of the season and has allowed 15 goals in 11 games. Behan, a junior who transferred to the school before this season, is 6-1 in his seven starts with two shutouts and six goals allowed — half of them in the 3-1 loss to Delbarton.

“He has shown a lot of confidence, even in the Delbarton game,” Bogan said of Behan.

Freshman Derek Vastola was in goal in a 3-0 victory over Wall High School. Joseph Carbone also has stepped in between the pipes this season.

Bogan said he has stuck to his style of moving players around in positions and in shifts, depending on the situation and how they’re playing.

Will Egbert often centers the first line with DiFazio and Liondici, and Clifton centers a penalty-killing line that usually includes Derek Contessa and D’Amelio. Bogan said he may flip those two centers at times.

“It all depends on matchpups,” he said.

Even forwards Garrett Silverman and Liam Noonan have been moved from wing to center.

“I rely on them for their defensive prowess and their ability to score,” Bogan said.

Will Hilfiker and Kyle Contessa have gotten more playing time of late.

Along with player versatility, Bogan has made changes and moved players because he says his team has been bitten by injuries and illness, particularly D’Amelia. It has happened much more than usual for his team.

The defense has been more stationary with Grable, Dietrich and Sam Weber sharing a lot of playing time. Ryan Tierney also has gotten in a lot of action. Blake Vastola, a transfer, is adding to the depth back there along with freshman Chad Schneider. Dietrich has been in and out of the lineup with an injury.

Bogan hopes his team will be at full strength for the telltale part of the season.