One month into the ice hockey season, Hillsborough High School has skated to an 8-2-1 record.
The Raiders have also outscored their opponents by a wide margin, 64-31.
Hillsborough coach Chris Tommins expected his team to be good this winter.
“I have high expectations for the kids and they have high expectations for themselves,” Tommins said in early December. “I expect a successful year.”
But the coach did not think his club would be this good.
“We’ve exceeded my expectations in a couple areas, defense and offense,” Tommins said on Dec. 31. “We’re not allowing as many goals as I thought we would, which is fantastic. And we’re scoring more than I thought we would, which is incredible.”
Hillsborough’s two best and most experienced creators, juniors Jude Kurtas and Jason Wolff, are sparking the Raiders on offense. Kurtas leads Hillsborough with 21 goals and 20 assists. Wolff is second on the team in points, with 37 (20 goals, 17 assists).
The pair has great chemistry. But Tommins does not play them together unless the Raiders need a goal. They are too good at making their teammates better.
“This year they are incorporating other guys into their chemistry,” Tommins said. “I can put them with a senior who’s been playing for four years or a freshman who hasn’t touched the ice all season. They bring whoever they are with right into line.”
Kurtas’ teammates also make him better. The junior is scoring on a higher percentage of shots than usual.
Like a basketball player, he is creating quality shots on his own. But he is also getting to good shooting spots, so his line mates can set him up.
Hillsborough’s next three biggest scorers, after Kurtas and Wolff, are Lleyton Soares (21 points), Brock Forrest (16) and Matt Palmer (14). Out of that trio’s 51 points, 39 have come on assists.
“The role guys are stepping up too,” Tommins added. “They are big reasons why we’re winning.”
Tommins, though, knew the Raiders would score a lot this year. They scored a lot last season, too.
The bigger surprise has been the play of the defense. And it starts in net with freshman Jason LoRicco.
In his first winter as a varsity starter, LoRicco is making 22 saves per game and holding opponents to less than three goals per contest. The goalie made 34 stops in Hillsborough’s 3-1 victory over Ridge High School on Dec. 29.
“For a freshman who has never faced this speed or these shots, he’s been amazing,” Tommins said. “He won that Ridge game for us.”
LoRicco is thriving because he is mature beyond his years.
“He’s very poised. He bounces right back after a goal,” Tommins said. “When he gives up a goal, he’ll actually go and reenact how it went in. That’s a coach’s dream.”
The young goalie has inspired confidence in his defenders.
Hillsborough is missing two defensemen, Seamus Parauda and Rob Renner, right now. Without them, Tommins has had to shuffle his defensive pairings. But everyone has stepped up.
“They are looking at him (Jason) and saying, ‘We need to help him get a win,'” Tommins said. “Having Jason back there also gives everyone more confidence.”
LoRicco’s older brother, junior Mike LoRicco, switched from forward to defense to help out his sibling. The junior is a strong passer, so he has been adept at moving the puck up the ice.
“He has been a game changer back there,” Tommins said. “He sees the ice and makes smart passes out of the zone.”
The Raiders are playing great, but they are not fully formed. They can still improve on defense.
“Fixing mistakes in the defensive zone will help us get to where we need to go,” Tommins said. “Nothing is glaring on this team. We’re playing great. We can just play even better if we tighten up a couple defensive zone ends.”
Hillsborough returns to the ice on Jan. 4 on the road against Wall High School. The opening face off is set for 6:15 p.m.