The Howell-Matawan high school’s co-op ice hockey team was challenged earlier this season with the injuries that struck its roster to start the 2019-2020 campaign.
That didn’t stop the second-year co-op team from battling out to a 5-4-2 start to the season, with players up and down the lineup stepping up for the squad heading into the new year.
Despite having its two-game winning streak snapped by Monroe Township High School, 2-1, on Jan. 3 at Jersey Shore Arena, Wall Township, coach Bill Daley is pleased with the success and credits it to how close the players on the team are on and off the ice.
“They’re a close knit team,” Daley said. “They came together last year when we did the co-op and are a good group of boys that work hard for each other. They don’t quit on each other, which is nice to see. Some of the young guys stepped up and we were able to pull out some wins.”
Senior Dylan Kramer has had a stellar season for the cop-op team.
Kramer has scored a team-high 10 goals so far this season and leads the team in assists with 12.
The senior knocked home his team-high 10th goal of the season just over four minutes into the second period to help Howell-Matawan tie Monroe 1-1.
The 10 goals are a career-high for Kramer, topping his mark of nine goals that he scored as a sophomore during the 2017-2018 season.
“He’s really taken his game to the next level this year,” Daley said of Kramer. “He’s a captain this year and has really put the team on his back.”
Senior James Bianco has been key distributor to the team’s offense this season, dishing out eight assists, his last coming on Kramer’s goal during the game against Monroe.
Bianco has also fired home two goals this season for the co-op squad.
Junior James Fray has been solid for the team out of the gate, knocking in five goals and producing in five assists.
Fray scored the game-winning goal in the team’s 4-3 victory over Old Bridge High School on Dec. 27 to capture the Old Bridge Tournament.
Howell-Matawan is 2-0 this winter against Old Bridge, who stands at 4-3 on the season.
Senior Tyler Herman and junior Stanley Paluszek each are tied with Frey for second on the team in goals scored with five tallies this season.
Senior Bernard Vitale has dished out five assists and has scored two goals this winter for Howell-Matawan, while sophomore teammate Mike Langella has also tallied home two goals this season with the addition of four assists.
The backbone of the team is goalie Dan McEvoy. The three-year starter has been solid in net during his senior campaign for the co-op squad and will be a guy the team can lean on come state playoff and Shore Conference tournament time.
Daley calls Kramer and McEvoy a “nice one-two punch” as the two players have helped lead the team to success on the ice this season.
As Howell-Matawan begins its second half push towards postseason play, Daley feels his team needs to get back to getting more shots on net to be successful in the second half of the season.
Daley feels the team is capable of making strong runs in both the state playoffs and the Shore Conference Tournament if they can continue to improve down the stretch.
“I think we can make some noise in the state playoffs and in the Shore Conference Tournament,” Daley said. “We need to get a little more team chemistry out on the ice with the puck and find the back of the net. We do that, we can make deep runs in both tournaments.”
Follow Steven Bassin on Twitter @SBassin_Sports