Jude Kurtas dominates boys’ ice hockey games with his puck handling skills.
The Hillsborough High School junior can score, pass and just hold the puck to kill time.
He is a singularly dominant creator.
His coach, Chris Tommins, even compares him to a famous athlete who plays the same role, only in a different sport: NBA superstar LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers.
“Jude’s puck handling skills are tremendous. If you want to compare it to another sport, he’s like the LeBron of our team,” Tommins said. “If LeBron needs to score, he’ll score. If he needs to facilitate, he’ll facilitate.”
“Jude has that all around game and he controls the game,” Tommins added. “He’s a point guard but he’s also like a shooting guard.”
Kurtas has recorded 37 goals and 34 assists in 19 games this winter, or almost four points per game. These are not empty points, either.
Kurtas has led the Raiders to a 14-4-1 record this season.
The junior’s versatility makes Hillsborough tough to defend.
“Teams have trouble stopping him because he’s that skilled,” Tommins said. “If he gets into trouble, he’s comfortable passing off to line mates.”
It also separates him from other great players in New Jersey.
“I believe he’s the best player in the state,” Tommins said. “If you look at other players, some guys have 40 assists or 35 goals, but their other number is in the teens.”
Kurtas may be the LeBron of New Jersey high school hockey, but even LeBron can’t win on his own. If Kurtas’ teammates couldn’t finish his passes, the Raiders would not be 10 games over .500.
Fellow junior Jason Wolff has 27 goals. Sophomore Brock Forrest has 12 tallies. Ten other Hillsborough players have also scored.
The Raiders are exceeding their coach’s expectations.
“The guys are working together and overcoming adversity,” Tommins said. “They are focused, which is showing in the record.”
Wolff is almost on Kurtas’ level as a creator, too. He actually has more assists, 28, than goals, 27, this season.
“Jason’s a hard worker. He’s a good complementary player to Jude,” Tommins said. “He‘s great at puck protection, shooting and passing.”
Behind Kurtas, Wolff and a deep supporting cast, Hillsborough is in position to make a postseason run. Tommins said the goal is clear: win the Public A state tournament championship on March 4 at the Prudential Center in Newark.
“That’s been our goal since we took over the program three years ago,” Tommins said. “So that’s what we want to do. We think we can do it.”
This also may be Hillsborough’s best chance to make a run. The Raiders will return a lot of talent next winter. But Kurtas won’t be among that group.
He has signed a tender contract with the Maryland Black Bears of the North American Hockey League, a junior league. His goal is to make the team out of training camp, play well and move up to the United States Hockey League, the top junior league, after a couple years.
The USHL is a talent feeder to Division 1 collegiate programs and even the National Hockey League.
Kurtas is going for it. His new journey begins with Black Bears training camp this summer.
“The future is wide open for him,” Tommins said. “Jude loves the game and he’s got the potential. He could get picked out of the USHL, if he’s that good.”