It was another good season for the Rumson-Fair Haven ice hockey team. So said Head Coach Eric Zullo.
“From where we were with what we lost and to keep winning and have the program go forward, it was a good season,” Zullo remarked.
Rumson lost two-thirds of its goal-scoring to graduation from the team that went 14-5-2, won the Shore Conference Dowd Cup and reached the NJSIAA Public B semifinals. Despite being hit so hard by graduation, the Bulldogs went 11-7-6 this winter and defended their Dowd Cup championship. In order to keep the winning tradition going, the Bulldogs relied on teamwork.
“Balanced scoring was the key for us,” said Zullo. “We relied heavily on Nik Doumas, and he came through.”
The junior forward led the team in scoring, tallying 19 goals and 19 assists for 38 points, or more than 1.5 points a game. Doumas, however, did not have to do it alone. There was plenty of help.
“We had balanced scoring with our younger guys contributing,” said Zullo.
Andrew Croddick, a junior, was on the first line with Doumas, and he had 24 points on 13 goals and 11 assists. Seniors Dominic Panke (10-14-24) and Beau Kemler (4-7-11) sparked the second line. Panke was second to Doumas in assists. Senior Aidan Ban (5-10-15) and junior Cole Dorworth (4-6-10) were also double-figure scorers for Rumson. Junior Otto Gross and sophomore Grayson Goldin also got into the scoring column. Overall, 17 different players scored at least one goal and 22 scored points.
Heading into the season, defense was Rumson’s greatest strength with four senior returners: Spencer Hobson, Ben Turoczi, Sal Iorio and Matt Hershkowitz.
“Our defense was really solid all year,” noted Zullo.
The defenders did more than defend. They were a big part of the offense as well. Hobson, despite missing several games due to injury, still scored six goals and assisted on 10 more.
“He’s the key piece to the transition from defense to offense,” Zullo said.
Turoczi scored 13 points on two goals and 11 assists, and Iorio had three goals and seven assists.
Finding a different way to score is what helped the Bulldogs succeed this winter.
“We’ve always been a good fore-checking team,” said Zullo. “It’s what you do after you get the puck. Can you make plays?”
Zullo pointed out that in 2021-22, the Bulldogs had speedy “high-flying” forwards who could break out and produce scoring opportunities. This winter, without dominating speed, Rumson had to create opportunities in different ways, and that took some time to develop. Key for the Bulldogs was getting the puck to the point and looking to score off tip-ins and screens. Hobson and Iorio were the best shooters from the point. They would put the puck on net consistently. Croddick was Rumson’s most effective player in the crease, positioning himself in front of the net to screen the goalie and be there for tips in or to misdirect a shot.
“He was our net finder,” said Zullo. “He took a beating in front of the net.”
Along with the experienced play of the defensemen, the Bulldogs could rely on their goalkeeping tandem of Alex Baret (Jr.) and Ryan Kuras (Sr.), who registered four shutouts between them and had a save percentage just under 90. The Bulldogs allowed fewer than three goals a game.
“We had two really good goalies,” said Zullo. “We always had a solid backstop no matter who was in goal.”
Rumson’s rather unusual record (seven ties) could be attributed to a challenging schedule that had the team taking on a high-quality opponent every week. It was designed to have the team ready for the postseason.
“The schedule served its purpose,” said Zullo.
Rumson defeated Middletown South, 3-2, in holding onto the Dowd Cup. Playing in tight games throughout the season helped the Bulldogs maintain their poise after falling behind the Eagles 2-0 in the first period. They settled down, got a second-period goal from Doumas to get back into the game and scored twice in the third period to pull out the win. Croddick tied the game on the power play assisted by Hobson, and Gross won it, assisted by Kemler and Iorio.
With so many sophomores and juniors stepping up this year, Zullo took a second to look ahead to 2023-24 and point out that “we’re in a very good position. We will continue to progress.”