BELMAR – There are some high school sports that have an overwhelming number of participants.  Football, baseball, basketball and soccer are traditional high interest sports with numerous students actively seeking to participate. What is a school to do when participation shrinks to the point where a team cannot be filled? Some schools have reached out to other schools in the same situation to combine teams to form a co-op team. St. Rose, Red Bank Catholic and Donovan Catholic took this route to form a tri-op ice hockey team playing at St. Rose.  


St. Rose graduated eight players last spring, leaving them with only six available players, according to St. Rose coach R.J. Hering. Red Bank Catholic and Donovan Catholic also had troubles with participation. “It would be a shame for the RBC players not to play this year,” said Hering.  “It (combining teams) made sense from a program standpoint.”  The St. Rose tri-op team now has a 19-player roster.


There were some challenges combining the players from different schools. “It definitely came down to balance and cohesiveness. We had to have rivals come together as a team,” said Hering.  One of the first things he did was address the players.  “I spoke to the players about building a culture of family.  We wanted to put together the most positive season we could.”  


It has been very successful this season. Most of the players were already familiar with each other. “They have a lot of relationships from travel hockey over the years. It has gone extremely well and the kids like the competitiveness of the team,” said Hering.


He explained that combining the teams is only a two-year trial based on participation. “Combining the teams helps with the number of players in the programs,” he said. “It also helps trying to boost the number of players in each school. Gathering interest in each school hopefully will enable them to branch out on their own.”


Hering is in his second year as head coach of the St. Rose team. He has previously coached six years of travel hockey, mostly with high school-age players. He places a strong emphasis on speed and puck movement. “The game has changed over the last five to seven years. It has become a speed and skill game,” he explained. “We do a lot of speed drills and game situation drills in practice. We focus on moving the puck quickly and getting into the (offensive) zone.”


His coaching philosophy and creation of a family culture seems to be working as St. Rose’s record stands at 10-4-5, an improvement over last year’s 8-13-2 record. “Last year we were a very young team with a lot of freshmen and sophomores that played a lot. We were not as developed as some of the other teams and we lost a lot of close games,” said Hering. “They are understanding the systems we are playing a little better this year.  They also understand our style of coaching better this year.” 


Hering is happy with the progress of the team. “We have a hardworking group of players that like to play a physical game,” he said. “They have embraced our coaching style of good puck movement and speed.  They are playing with confidence which is great.”


Every coach has preseason goals and Hering is no different.  “I wanted to improve what we did last year.  Each year is a building block,” he explained. “We were able to make the Shore Conference Tournament this year which we didn’t do last year. We won the Toms River Tournament (Winding River Christmas Tournament) which we have played in the last two years. We also were able to make the state tournament which we also made last year.”


St. Rose is led by senior captains Sean Grant and Nick Reed and junior captain Tim Regan.


Grant is also St. Rose’s top offensive player. He is among the state leaders in goals scored (29), points (49) and game-winning goals (5). “He plays the game the right way in every aspect on the ice.  He has great offensive skills but plays defense as hard as he does offense. He is a great two-way player,” said Hering.


Sophomore Aidan Grant plays on the same line as his brother, Sean.  “They have great chemistry,” said Hering.  Aidan Grant is another strong offensive contributor with nine goals and 19 assists.


Another top offensive player for St. Rose is Regan.  “He’s a great player with good size who plays a physical game and has good puck movement,” said Hering. Regan is third on the team with 18 assists.


Mike Frattaroli leads the defense. Last year he played forward for St. Rose. Hering explains his switch to defense, “He converted to defense for the benefit of the team.  He is doing a phenomenal job for us.”


St. Rose has three goaltenders on the roster. Junior Jack Bilancione has gotten the majority of the ice time and is credited with 384 saves.  


Based on Hering’s philosophy, it is easy to see that puck movement is one of St. Rose’s strengths. “We move the puck really well.  We play a good East-West game which enables us to get the puck up the ice easier,” he said.

However, there are a few areas that Hering feels need to continue to improve.  “We’ve had success rolling three lines. We need our second and third lines to contribute as well,” he explained. The powerplay is also a key aspect to St. Rose’s game. “Our powerplay has to be a big strength for us.”


St. Rose played a significant game earlier this season against Jackson Memorial.  Up 5-2 with four minutes left in the game, St. Rose lost the game, 6-5. “We had our biggest meltdown of the season,” said Hering. “It was our biggest wake-up call and we played really good hockey the rest of the season. It helped us right the ship and get back on track.”


It seems the lesson was learned as St. Rose met up with Jackson Memorial again last week in the Shore Conference Handchen Cup Tournament.  They were able to beat Jackson Memorial handily in the rematch which allowed them to continue playing in the tournament.


Their next opponent is second-seeded Middletown South. “In order to beat Middleton South, we need to play the same game we have been playing the last few weeks,” said Hering. “It comes down to playing a strong defensive game shutting down their players.  They (South) have a strong goalie so we need to get players in front of their net so we can score some ‘dirty’ goals (deflections, tip-ins and goals through screens).” 


To win the Handchen Cup, Hering said, “It has to be a group effort with good goaltending and scoring up and down the line-up.  We also need to keep our composure.”


Hering feels good about the future of the St. Rose ice hockey program. “The goal is to do the same thing as the top programs. We want to establish St. Rose as one of the better teams at the Shore.”  With his coaching style and the motivation of his players, it seems like this is well within their reach.