Cherry Hill High School East ice hockey has been steamrolling the competition in Tier II of the South Jersey High School Hockey League.
The team has won 14 of its first 15 games, has outscored its opposition 99–31 and has three players in the top-10 in points.
The Cougars clinched the No. 1 seed in the playoffs with a 6–2 win over Holy Lenape Valley on Jan. 4 and now has their eyes set on bringing home a championship after losing in the finals last year.
“We were expecting to do well through the entire season,” senior captain Jason Fisch said. “Coming off a loss in the championship last year, we definitely wanted redemption.”
This season has differed from last year for Cherry Hill East. In the previous four seasons, the team played as what was known as “Eastern East West,” or EEW, and was merged with Voorhees’ Eastern High School ice hockey program. This year, Eastern and Cherry Hill had enough players to break off from one another and compete separately.
For Cherry Hill East, the addition of a few new players has been crucial to the team’s success. One new player, freshman goalie Luke Martini, has taken over as the team’s starting goalkeeper. He hasn’t lost this season, recording a perfect record of 10–0–0. He leads all starting goalies with a goals against average of 1.80.
Martini said there was a small adjustment competing against older players, but credited his experience playing at the AA youth level with helping him dive right into the high school game.
“I didn’t expect it would be too hard, but I didn’t think it would be this easy either,” Martini said.
Another key new player has been senior Kris Hastings, who came out for Cherry Hill East for the first time this season but also has lots of experience on the youth and travel level. Hastings has been a force, leading the SJHSHL with 24 assists and 43 points.
Hastings has teamed with fellow senior forwards Justin Bryan and Andrew Bowen to form one of the league’s best scoring lines. Bowen ranks third in the league in goals with 21. Bryan is third in the league in assists with 16 and is tied for second in points with 31.
“Our playing style just complements each other,” Bowen said. “Kris has been great for the team. He’s brought a competitive streak to the team. It was really great.”
Bryan said there isn’t a competition among the trio in the goal- and point-scoring races, adding there has been plenty to go around for all three players.
“We all score so many goals,” Bryan said.
Cherry Hill East isn’t just relying on one scoring line this year, however. Bowen said the biggest difference between last year’s team and this year’s has been the amount of scoring coming from the lower lines. Cherry Hill East has seven players with double-digit points and seven players with five or more goals this season.
“We’ve had a lot more balanced scoring,” Bowen said. “Last year, we were relying on one or two guys to score. This year, we have a lot more balanced of an offensive attack.”
Drawing experienced youth and travel players has also been important to Cherry Hill’s success. Fisch believes the experience will come through once the playoffs begin.
“A fair amount of the younger players have played on travel and competitive teams before,” Fisch said. “They knew what to expect coming in.”
Despite the regular season success, Bowen noted the team still needs to perform once the playoffs begin in February. However, the team has a lot of confidence heading into the postseason. Cherry Hill East had won eight consecutive games heading into its game against Egg Harbor on Jan. 15 and believes it can carry the streak deep into the winter.
“It’s been good to have that momentum carry through the season,” Bowen said. “Hopefully, we can carry it into the playoffs.”
“I’m not stressed at all,” Bryan said. “We’ve been doing it for so long. We’ve beat teams 8–1, 8–2 consistently. We’ve beaten every single team and we know how every team plays.”