Middletown North (18-5-4) – Early favorites to repeat as Public B champions, the Lions averaged more than six goals per outing in their final 16 games after Bobby Hampton (35-19-54) became eligible following his transfer from CBA. Linemate Khristian Acosta (32-42-74) is four points away from the school record of 137 career points. Seniors Vince Tomasetti (16-32-48) and captain Kevin Felice (15-16-31) also return, as does senior Anthony Manfredi in net. Senior Ryan Davidson and sophomore Kyle Goworeck key a talented, yet relatively inexperienced blue line that also includes freshman John Hallard.
Red Bank Catholic (18-6-3) – After beating Middletown North and obliterating St. John Vianney en route to last year’s Shore Conference championship, Red Bank Catholic lost some of its top talent. The Caseys still have the high-scoring senior tandem of Evan Hoey (31-21-52) and Alec Mintz (21-27-48), enough to trouble any conference opponent. Senior Cole Kirchner leads the defense in front of senior goalie Matt Benjamin, while head coach Ken Carlson will look for important contributions from juniors Matt Tringola and Rob Goehring and sophomores Brian Anderson and Noah Sepe up front.
St. John Vianney (16-6-2) – After a thrilling run last year, St. John Vianney fell hard in the Shore Conference final, and the Lancers graduated Mike Gelatt and Matt Kidney, two of the top players in school history. But juniors Max Allen (12-14-26), James O’Keefe (8-19-27), and Derek Golkin all return, while freshman John Gelatt, the third in a sequence of brothers, could make an instant impact up front. Two other freshmen, defenseman John Kennedy and goalie Jeremy Connor, will also see the ice right away.
Freehold Township (12-9-3) – Overshadowed by three division opponents that reached state finals last year, head coach Mike Celano’s Patriots should still be players in Public A. Freehold Township did lose rising senior Zach Berzolla (Colorado College) to junior hockey, but junior goalie Nick Raiola and junior defenseman Julian Kislin (9-23-32), himself a Northeastern commit, both return. Up front, junior Max Halvorsen (19-27-48) will lead the offense alongside classmates Brendan Liebross (12-14-26) and Tyler McNamara (11-9-20). Kyle Nestepny leads a talented class of newcomers.
Howell (22-5) – After an unprecedented season that saw them lose by a goal in the Public A final, Howell lost forward Kyle Hallbauer, the state’s leading scorer, to graduation and linemate Lee McCarthy to the USPHL. The Rebels will still be capable of pulling out wins thanks to junior Bobby Dovenero in goal and Anthony Galliccio (23-16-43) and Lee McCarthy (22-39-61) up front, but they will need to mature over the course of the year to maintain hopes of a playoff run.
Middletown South (18-6-1) – While they skate in Shore B, the Eagles were dynamite down the stretch last year, upsetting rival and eventual Public B champion Middletown North late in the regular season and reaching the Public B quarterfinals themselves. They’ll start as division favorites this year, as head coach Tony Nemati welcomes back juniors Ryan Lambert and Gavin Gulash and senior Alex Demaio up front. Senior Alex Latham leads the defense, while freshmen Clay Simonsen and Adam Bloodgood will vie to fill the goaltending spot vacated by Owen Liskiewicz, who is bypassing his senior year to play junior hockey.
Elsewhere in the Shore Conference’s three ‘A’ divisions, key returning players include Brendan Ban from Rumson-Fair Haven (9-9-1), Alex Phipps from St. Rose / Donovan Catholic (9-11-1, 13-9-3), forwards Zach Noble (31-36-67 in 17 games) and Pat Hoffman and defenseman Patrick Romano from Toms River East (5-12-1), forward Nick Pica (20-33-53) from Toms River North (11-9-4), goalie Jake Lakatos and forward John Maloney from Brick Township (12-6-1), Justin Hulse from Brick Memorial (1-21-1), and forward T.J. Hawkins and defenseman Tommy Rossi from Southern Regional (17-5-4), which will find it hard to match last year’s landmark run to the Public A semifinals. Other possible contenders include Point Pleasant Borough (11-7-3) and Jackson Memorial (13-7-2).
In Shore B, players to watch include Central Regional (13-9) junior forward Mike Mania (16-23-39), Jackson Liberty (10-10-2) senior forwards Leszek Gronowski and Joe Low, defenseman Frank Taddeo from Red Bank / Henry Hudson (6-13-1), forward Henry Cioffi from Ocean Township / Shore Regional (8-14-3), and junior Shane Haviland and sophomore Zach Tarantino from Wall (11-11-1), which will also get a boost with the high school debut of senior forward Christian Bierker, an accomplished club player.
Throughout the conference, potential impact freshmen include Dylan Barfield and Brandon Coyle from Toms River East, defenseman John Green from Toms River North, and Wall goalie Logan Beattie.