Rivals Join Forces On Combined Ice Hockey Team

Toms River South-East's players and administrators pose for a picture after the puck drop during the team's regular season opener. From left are team members Casey Jacoby and Mark Bish, South principal Michael Citta, East principal Pat Thomas and players Aidan Inteso and Sean Cook. (Photo courtesy of Danielle Irey)

TOMS RIVER – It’s a team with no nickname.

However, it’s a team with talent.

It’s known as the Toms River South-East varsity high school ice hockey team. It’s the second straight year the schools find themselves pooling players.

“Neither school had enough players to form its own team,” said Jason Verdon, the team’s second-year coach. “We combined the players from both schools so that there could be a team. It is my job as the coach to transform the program into a healthy state. The athletics department of the Toms River Regional School District came up with the idea of combining the teams to give the players a place to play and keep the team going. Some towns have three teams combined. I have not heard of this in any other sport besides ice hockey.”
Verdon said economics played a role in the combining of the players.

“If you look at the areas where ice hockey is more prevalent, you will see that there is a socioeconomic difference,” he said. “In Monmouth County, there is a higher mean income category. We are right in the middle in terms of the mean income category with the three Toms River public high schools, including North. That cuts into the amount of players who are available in each school.

“In youth ice hockey, interest comes and goes. Sometimes, there is a large influx of kids who are into ice hockey and all of a sudden it dries up. Nobody can put their finger on exactly why that happens. Those are my theories. If you look at the teams that have won state high school ice hockey titles over the last 10 years, you will see that the majority of them have come from affluent areas.”

South-East fields strictly a varsity team.

“The town also supports a varsity ice hockey team at North,” Verdon said. “There are no freshman or junior varsity ice hockey teams at North.”

Verdon said his team consists of 24 players and dresses 14-16 athletes per game.

“Players who do not dress are in the developmental stages of their careers,” he said. “They need to improve their skills before they put their skates on the ice at the varsity level. They practice with the varsity team in the hopes of improving their skills and becoming varsity players in the future.”

Don’t look for the team to receive a nickname in the near future.

“It’s not a priority for the athletics department or myself,” Verdon said. “We have discussed it. Nobody wants to touch it at this point. As time goes on, a name will present itself. Perhaps an unofficial nickname like Alliance or Icers might come up. We want to have an identity, but we need to respect the individual schools as well. We have a lot of things to consider. We have done the best we can to honor everyone with the logo we came up with.

“Copyright infringement is also involved. We have to be careful about the types of mascots and likenesses we choose.”

The team, a member of the Shore Conference North Division, is scheduled to play 18 regular-season games. Its home rink is the Winding River Skating Center where it lost its first two games of the season, falling 3-1 to West Windsor-Plainsboro South and 4-0 to Jackson Memorial.

Jackson Memorial’s Josh Shepetofsky and Toms River South-East’s Christopher Dineen battle. (Photo courtesy of Danielle Irey)

Senior forward Brandon Coyle scored off a pass from freshman forward Christopher Dineen against West Windsor. Josh Shepetofsky paced Jackson with two goals. Grantas Mozuraitis and Nick Swain added one goal each for the Jaguars.

“Coyle is a goal scorer,” Verdon said. “He finds a way to score goals. He picks up the loose pucks around the net and has a nose for the net. He is always able to score goals.”
Dineen is mentally tough.

“I like the confidence Dineen has brought into the locker room,” Verdon said. “You would expect either jitters or nervousness from a freshman, but he has brought confidence and a strong game to go with it. He is talented from the skating standpoint and has incredible speed. He has a very high ice hockey IQ. He is already able to handle himself among most if not all of our players. He is definitely a player to watch over the next few years. I consider him more of a play maker than a scorer, but I am sure he will be doing both.”

Junior forward Casey Jacoby is another strong player.

“He is the prototypical winger,” Verdon said. “He is a two-way player as he is solid in the defensive zone. He also has offensive skills and is someone I would expect to find the back of the net quite often.”

Junior Mark Bish sees action as the goaltender.

“Mark is our anchor,” Verdon said. “He works very hard at playing his position. He has played at high levels on the traveling circuit. When I have him in goal, I expect him to get us out of trouble, make the tough saves and turn away lots of shots.”

There is nothing fancy about how junior defenseman Aidan Inteso plays the game.

“He is a meat and potatoes type of defenseman,” Verdon said. “When you are hurting, he is exactly what you want. He brings a physical style of play to the ice that we desperately need on the defensive side of the puck.”

Freshman forward Dom Markland brings experience to the ice.

“He has played ice hockey for almost all of his life,” Verdon said. “He comes to the varsity with skills and abilities that most players don’t have. He combines skill, toughness and tenacity. If we need either a big play to be made or a big goal to be scored, he finds a way to get it done. He is another player we need to watch over the next few years.”

Freshman defender Nick Taaffe, a 5-foot-6, 135-pounder, brings experience from the traveling circuit.

“We are looking forward to seeing how he progresses once his body fills out,” Verdon said. “I am sure at some time he will be one of the top players in the Shore Conference.”

Verdon also hopes for contributions from sophomore defenseman Vincent Servis, senior forward Dylan Barnfield, junior defenseman Dylan Skorge, sophomore forward Vito Pecorella, sophomore forward-defenseman Adam Kannheiser, sophomore defenseman Shandon Robinson, sophomore forward Armone Markland, junior forward-defenseman Matthew Sherwood and junior goalie Sean Cook.

South and East are rivals in numerous other sports.

“This year, I think there is a different feel in the locker room as this is the second year for the team,” Verdon said. “Maybe the players are more used to me and more used to this arrangement. We have done things together as a team. That has helped. The boys talk about themselves being rivals in other sports, but there is nothing serious. Most of the boys grew up playing together on the ice.”

Verdon, 47, is a captain in the Bayonne Fire Department and a former Bayonne player. He played at Ocean County College under then-coach Dick Strada. Verdon is a substitute teacher in the Toms River Regional School District and a coach at the travel level with the Toms River Blackhawks.

Verdon’s assistant coaches are former North head football coach Rick Dispoto and Casey Chant, also a Toms River teacher.

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Chris Christopher covers sports for Micromedia Publications Inc. with knowledge, pride and passion. His beats are the high school, college, professional, youth and recreational scenes. A three-time New Jersey Press Association award winner for sports writing, Christopher was inducted into the Shore Football Coaches Foundation Hall of Fame in 2015 for his work in the media. The Lakewood resident enjoys taking walks in Ocean County Park and on the boardwalks in Ocean and Monmouth counties and rooting for the New York Mets.