With the season opener this weekend, the league aims to apply last year’s skill set to this season.
Over the past year, jerseys reading “Gloucester Township” could be seen on street hockey rinks from Egg Harbor to Quebec.
The Gloucester Township Hockey Alliance teams in the Beaver, Cadet and Penguin divisions were recently honored by council for clinching 2017 National Street Hockey Championship titles in Bellmawr last May.
But, this was just one tournament in a series of matches they mastered on regional to international levels in the past year.
“We have individuals that are wearing Gloucester Township on their uniforms representing our township throughout the country, throughout the United States, and abroad at times,” Council President Orlando Mercado said at the Oct. 23 council meeting.
At nationals, the GTHA A team in the Beaver division, which won six of its seven tournaments, beat the Bellmawr Bears Hockey Association, 5–1. It then went on to win at the Dekhockey Tournament in Massachusetts. The team, comprised of kids ages 10 to 12, scored 191 goals, giving up only 14 the whole season.
“It was really satisfying, because (the team) really played well and they dominated the games. It was fun to sit back and watch them,” said coach John Gallen, who led the team through the season. “As a coach, I take something from these guys and I put my own touch on it.”
Gallen says he’s motivated by the fellow GTHA team, particularly the GTHA A team in the Cadent division, which beat Pittsburgh’s Brookline Youth Hockey League, 3–1, in the 2017 National Street Hockey Championship, which was one of eight winning tournaments they added under their belts just in the past year.
Shortly after nationals, GTHA A went on to dominate Pittsburgh as well in the North American All Hockey Championship in June. The final score was 4–1.
Chris Comtio, who coached the team in the Cadent division throughout last season, attributes the success to the growth of his players, many of whom he’s led since their Penguin days, comprised of kids ages 7 to 9.
“When they were younger, it was a lot more coaching. Now, they’re at the age where they have a really good understanding of the game. They have a lot more input, as far as what we’re doing,” Comito said. They have their own idea now on how to play the game, especially, because they’re been all over the place.”
After their local success, the Cadets team, ages 13 to 15, competed in tournaments in St. Catharines, Ontario, over the summer.
Cadet players have cultivated their own practice by picking up on the spectrum of skills displayed by players across North America. Naturally, they have to alter their approach depending on who and where they’re playing.
Canadian games tend to feature larger rinks and faster players, while more local leagues, such as Pittsburgh, focus more on physicality.
“We focus on how to dominate against the better teams,” Cadent team assistant captain Marco Decotiis said. “You have to know what you’re getting into.”
This mindset resounds throughout all of the GTHA players and divisions.
“Every game, every practice. We gave it our all. We came to every game with a mentality of ‘get the job done,’” Beaver team goalie Zack McErlain said.
Both Decotiis and McErlain are moving up to the next respective divisions for this upcoming season. Comito will also move up to the Freshman Division, and Gallen will move up to Cadets.
GTHA’s season opener is set for on Saturday, Nov. 4. The day will consist of 18 games, 36 teams, including penguins, beavers and cadets.
Both the coaches and players hope to apply the mental and physical strengths they’ve acquired over the past year’s tournaments to their new divisions.
“I just need to help everyone around me grow and evolve throughout the season and hopefully get to the playoffs,” McErlain said. “That’s the goal.”