HomeVoorhees NewsNewly revived Eastern ice hockey team hopes to return to glory

Newly revived Eastern ice hockey team hopes to return to glory


For a number of years in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Eastern Vikings ice hockey was a perennial contender in the South Jersey High School Hockey League. The Vikings won four championships in seven seasons, winning the league title in 1998, 1999, 2003 and 2004.

However, in recent years, Eastern has not had a team to call its own. With the number of players in the SJHSHL declining over the past decade due to more players playing travel and club hockey, neighboring towns had to merge. In 2011, Eastern combined with Cherry Hill East and West to form a “Eastern East West” or EEW team.

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This year, things are different. The Vikings are competing in the SJHSHL again as a “pure” team, meaning the entire team consists of players who attend Eastern Regional High School. While it may not seem like a big deal on the surface, the move to purity represents a resurgence for the program.

Eastern ice hockey has been revived thanks to the work of numerous volunteers. Anthony Zuber, head coach of the varsity team, and Brian Zuckerman, assistant coach on varsity, are just two of the volunteers who are working to make Eastern one of the best ice hockey programs in South Jersey once again.

Zuckerman said the SJHSHL has been encouraging teams to go pure again in the last couple of years. This year, Eastern had enough players and volunteers to make it work.

“We decided as a group that we had enough kids at the middle school and high school level,” Zuckerman said.

When the idea to bring Eastern back to purity was pitched to parents and players, Zuber said reaction was overwhelmingly positive.

“It was more about having a team associated with the school,” Zuber said. “The kids could go through the middle school and on up into high school. It was to make sure they had a group that they could belong with.”

To build a sustainable program, the goal was to have Eastern put one high school team and one middle school team on the ice for the season. The spring and summer were spent trying to recruit players.

“We just started recruiting and said we were building something for Eastern High School,” Zuber said. “We had three or four meetings in the summertime to bring parents out.”

The recruitment drive was successful. So many players signed up for the program, Eastern was able to create twice the number of teams it expected to have.

“Our goal was to have just one high school team and one middle school team,” Zuckerman said. “We ended up having enough for two each.”

Zuckerman believes the program was successful in its recruitment efforts because the players really took to the idea of playing for their high school.

“It’s really been a pride thing for the kids,” he said.

The teams are known as the Eastern Vikings and wear the same colors as the high school sports teams. However, the organization operates independently of the school. It is not a school-sanctioned varsity sport or club. All players paid a fee at the beginning of the season to play for the Vikings.

“The kids have an annual fee,” Zuber said. “They are USA Hockey registered. They are insured by USA Hockey.”

Once the teams were created, the work on the ice began. Eastern’s varsity team this season is very young, with only two seniors and five juniors on the roster. However, with the program building a strong base at the middle school level, Zuber believes the team is set up for long-term success.

“That is our goal, to contend with the top teams and get back to where we were 12 to 15 years ago,” Zuber said.

For the 2015–16 season, the Vikings are looking forward to having a chance to compete for the Flyers Cup, a regional ice hockey tournament featuring teams from all around the Philadelphia region. The tournament is limited only to pure teams, meaning it will be the first time the current players on the Eastern roster will be eligible to play.

“What our hope is for really this year is to be competitive, and then at the end of the season with the Flyers Cup, we’d like to be competitive in that and hopefully win it,” Zuber said.

For more information about Eastern Vikings ice hockey, visit www.leaguelineup.com/welcome.asp?url=easternvikingsicehockey.


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