In the fall of 2014, Jeremy Connor was a student at Hazlet Middle School. Mick Messemer was his homeroom teacher.
One day, Connor walked into homeroom wearing a “USA Hockey” sweatshirt. Messemer, who was in his first season as Saint John Vianney High School’s ice hockey coach, noticed the sweatshirt and started talking to Connor.
Connor had played goaltender his whole life, and at the time, he was playing for the Brick Hockey Club’s Bantam AA team. Messemer knew he was about to lose his top two goalies to graduation, and he was looking for replacements.
After their conversation, the coach decided to go see Connor play.
“I must have played pretty good,” Connor said, laughing.
Four plus years later, Connor is the best goalie in Saint John Vianney history.
As a senior this winter at the Holmdel school, he has broken two program records, for shutouts and victories.
On Jan. 18 at the Howell Ice Arena, Saint John Vianney beat Howell, 3-0. Connor made eight saves and earned his ninth career shutout, breaking Todd Stolarz’s program record of eight, which he set in 2003.
Then, on Feb. 4, in the Egan Cup championship at the Loucks Ice Center in Lawrenceville, the Lancers topped Saint Joseph Regional High School of Montvale, 1-0. Connor stoned 29 shots and recorded the 48th victory of his high school career, surpassing the school record of 47, set by Jimmy Ellis in 2015.
Connor has been Saint John Vianney’s starting goalie since game one of his freshman season.
“We knew what we were getting,” Messemer said. “He has done everything we asked for and then some.”
“It was good timing,” Connor said. “The coaches believed in me and I ran with it.”
Connor has been consistent his whole career. But in recent weeks, he has unlocked another level of play.
The senior has shut out four more opponents since breaking the record against Howell. He has also held two other teams to just one goal.
The fourth-year starter is up to 13 career shutouts and 51 victories.
“He’s a rock back there,” Messemer said.
A great goalie can carry a team far. But Connor does not even have to carry the Lancers. They are talented across the ice.
Messemer’s squad is 18-1-2 with an 89-29 goal differential. It also won the Handchen Cup with a 4-1 victory over Point Pleasant High School on Feb. 13. With the Egan Cup and Handchen Cup titles clinched, the Lancers are looking toward the NJSIAA Non-Public Tournament.
Saint John Vianney is the No. 9 seed in the state tournament. It earned a bye in the first round and will open the tournament in the second round, on Feb. 22 against Seton Hall Preparatory School.
The Non-Public bracket is 22 teams deep. As the only state tournament for private school programs, it is hard to win.
But Saint John Vianney may have the best, most experienced player at the most important position.
“With Jeremy, it doesn’t matter who, where or when we play,” Messemer said. “He’ll keep us in the game.”
Connor also wants to stay in the game himself. After high school, he plans on playing junior hockey for two or three years and trying to earn a Division 1 scholarship.
His journey will begin next winter, close to home. Connor will suit up for the New Jersey 87s of the Eastern Hockey League’s Premier Division. The 87s are based in Middletown.
“I wanted to stay close the first year and still play at a good level,” Connor said. “Then I’ll look for the best opportunity.”