If you look through the New Jersey high school ice hockey record books, you’ll see plenty of the schools on Gloucester Catholic’s schedule near the top of the teams with the most championships.
Delbarton, Christian Brothers Academy (CBA), Seton Hall Prep and Don Bosco Prep have a combined 25 state titles and 44 state championship appearances.
Gloucester Catholic, meanwhile, is still chasing its first state title. The Rams played in the Non-Public State Championship game once, in 2010, during current NHL All-Star Johnny Gaudreau’s final high school season.
“Every team since has tried to get back there,” Rams senior goalie Chris Liscio said.
Liscio watched his older brother, Mike, chase that same dream before he graduated five years ago and continued his hockey career at Rutgers. Before Chris Liscio graduates, he’d like nothing more than to see this year’s talented Gloucester Catholic team break through and carry that state championship trophy around the ice.
The Rams have a fighting chance with Liscio between the pipes.
Gloucester Catholic, ranked No. 3 in the state in NJ.com’s most recent rankings, owns a win over the state’s No. 1 team, CBA, and is unbeaten in its last six games thanks to a promising group of underclassmen on the roster and the steady hand of Liscio in goal. Liscio wasted little time collecting a couple of shutouts this season (both in the season’s first month, before Christmas) and entered the second full week of January with a .963 save percentage, second best in the state according NJ.com, NJSIAA’s sanctioned statistics provider.
“He had a really good junior season,” said former Gloucester Catholic coach Tom Bunting. “But he’s been unbelievable this year.”
Bunting, the Rams coach in each of the last two seasons, had to take a one-year break from high school coaching due to commitments as a club coach. In his place, however, is Guy Gaudreau, Johnny’s father and the Rams coach who led the team to that 2010 state title game and built the program from scratch into a place in the prestigious Gordon Conference.
Gloucester Catholic is one of two South Jersey teams in the Gordon, which features a who’s who of the state’s best teams.
“Everyone thinks North Jersey is way better than us,” said Liscio, who recorded two shutouts in last year’s playoffs. “They do put together a lot of good programs up there; there are a lot more private schools. But for what we have down here, I think there are a lot of great programs in this area.”
The Rams can help change that narrative by capturing that elusive state crown in the coming months. Liscio believes they can pull that off, thanks in part to a freshmen class that’s as talented as it is deep: Defenseman Nick Fascia and forward Chris Pelosi are among the 10 ninth graders on the roster.
“We definitely have the potential to make a run and go to the finals again,” Liscio said. “It’s all about how hard we compete and showing out against the good teams that have done it before. And it goes a long way when you have a coaching staff that’s done it and that has been to that game. Guy has been there. We’re going to try our best to get back there and I definitely think we have a team that can do it.”
Liscio not only has the experience that should aid the Rams’ young roster, he also can draw from his own path to the lineup to build up his leadership skills. The senior goalie knows opportunities aren’t a given.
Three years ago, Liscio cracked the lineup as a freshman on a Gloucester Catholic team that would finish 6-9-2. But during his sophomore season, he was on the bench in favor of senior goalie Matt Bidini.
Liscio didn’t see the ice as a 10th grader.
“This is a tough league to play in as a freshman, particularly for a goaltender,” Bunting said. “I don’t care how good you are, it’s tough to play at 14 in net.”
The time on the bench — while also fine-tuning his play in club hockey — was instrumental in Liscio’s development.
“All of a sudden he shot up,” Bunting noted. “He gained more confidence and his game took off.”
“Every game that you don’t play all you want to do is play,” Liscio said. “All you want to do is be the kid in net. I learned from that a lot, not seeing a single game that season … I think that’s why I came out a lot harder in my junior year, because I didn’t play at all my sophomore year. I wanted to prove a point almost that I deserved to be here still and have the spot that I had, and that’s what I’m still doing, I’m trying to keep my spot and work as hard as possible.”
Liscio continues to bring that mentality to the ice as the end of his high school career approaches. He’s hoping it’ll be contagious, and fuel the Rams to a lengthy playoff run in March.
Liscio is eager to continue his goaltending career in college, with an interest in finding a home with one of the local schools in the running for his services. But before he leaves, he wants to make sure Gloucester Catholic is better represented in the state record books.
“During the season you try to forget about (a state championship) and take it game by game,” he said. “But obviously it’s something that we all think about, all the older kids, the seniors, because no one has ever done it before. …
“I compete a lot harder now than I did (as a freshman). I understand that I’m playing for a whole team and not just for myself. I’m playing for my team. I’m playing for my school. I want to win now more than ever.”