RED BANK – When senior goaltender Ciaran McNelis walks across the stage at graduation, he will go down as the best goalkeeper the Red Bank Catholic hockey program has ever seen.
“I think that’s a no-brainer. He’d be number one at the top,” Red Bank Catholic head coach Joe Zdeb said. “I know a lot of the guys who have played because I run an alumni game and there are some guys who come back and over my five years, we’ve had some good guys that won some Shore Conference titles because of good goaltending. But hands down, he’s by far the best.
“He actually asked me earlier in the year what the all-time saves record was. I went back and I’ve tried to find some of it, and from what I’ve found, he’s way above that. I don’t have all the stats, but he’s above and beyond everyone else.”
McNelis got a handful of starts on the varsity level as a sophomore, but has really taken off since becoming the starter in his junior year.
“The last couple of years have just been remarkable in terms of what he has been able to do,” Zdeb said. “He’s had several 50-save games over the last two years and I think it’s the consistent play that he brings to every practice and every game. He’s just focused and at the top of his game.”
One performance that sticks out this year was in a 2-2 tie against Wall on Jan. 10, a game that saw McNelis save 50 out of 52 shots against one of the top offenses in the state.
“When you look at those kind of games, there’s probably 6-8 saves that are easy goals on any other goalie in the state,” Zdeb said. “Not to say anything negative about them, but there are some shots that should be no-brainer empty-netters and he doesn’t make one or two of those saves; he makes a half dozen to a dozen of them.”
McNelis focuses solely on hockey in high school and plays outside of school with the New Jersey Titans AAA team. He is hoping to play junior hockey after high school, but is also planning to attend college at Quinnipiac and just focus on academics.
“He’s not only a remarkable athlete, but also a remarkable young man,” Zdeb said. “I find that really impressive because he probably has a shot if he continues to pursue playing and I find it crazy that someone of his talent isn’t already picked up by somebody. I find it remarkable that he’s willing to move forward in terms of college and life.”
Zdeb played at Red Bank Catholic himself from 1998-2001, and is fifth all-time in points with 131 (50 goals, 81 assists). He knows what it means to put on that Caseys uniform, and McNelis exemplifies it better than anyone.
“One of the things that we try to preach in the RBC hockey program is that there’s an RBC hockey way,” Zdeb said. “There’s pride about playing for RBC and a tradition and things of that nature and he exemplifies that. He does really well in his travel program with the Titans, but I think he’s really proud to play for RBC. He carries himself on and off the ice really well. He’s a good mentor to the younger guys and he’s the first goalie in RBC hockey history to wear the ‘C.’ That was a big deal when I first came on as an assistant coach; you wouldn’t see a goaltender as captain, just because you couldn’t talk to the refs and things. I see it as a leadership position and he’s definitely earned that and carried it well.”
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