In the winter of 2015, Joe Low did not have to help Nick LaBianca.
Low, a senior ice hockey player, was about to set Jackson Liberty High School’s career scoring record. LaBianca, Low’s freshman line mate, was just trying to establish himself as a varsity hockey player.
But Low did help LaBianca. The senior and the freshman did not become inseparable or anything. Low just allowed LaBianca to center his line and be one of the varsity guys.
Low also set LaBianca on the course to breaking his own record. About three years later, on Dec. 1, 2018 against Red Bank Regional High School, LaBianca registered three goals and three assists.
With that huge performance, LaBianca reached 142 career points, breaking Low’s school record of 141.
“Joe took him under his wing when he came in,” said Jackson Liberty coach Kyle Weise. “Joe let him be one of the guys right away, and Nick proved himself.”
That winter, Low led the Lions with 25 goals and LaBianca recorded 23 assists. The senior leader finished a lot of LaBianca’s passes. He was a big reason why his protege eventually broke his record.
“Playing with Joe was a great help,” Weise said.
Once Low graduated, LaBianca took over his role as Jackson Liberty’s leader and top scorer. LaBianca scored 19 goals as a sophomore and 26 as a junior. But he also continued to set up teammates, posting 31 assists in his sophomore season.
“He’s a talented player who works hard, and he has improved greatly,” Weise said. “He’s gotten bigger, stronger and faster. Older and smarter, too. He has just evolved each year.”
Now, as a fully formed scorer, LaBianca has three go-to moves.
“One move is as long as I’m going faster than the guy, I can put it under his stick and skate by him,” LaBianca said. “Another one is putting the puck to the side and putting a power move around the defender. And the third one is coming across the middle and shooting it at the top corner.”
LaBianca used that last move to score his 200th career point, a goal against Rumson-Fair Haven High School on Feb. 4.
Low taught LaBianca that move, and the other two that he often uses.
“From Joe I learned what moves to pull in high school,” LaBianca said. “My freshman year he’d pull me in the corner and show me what to do. It really simplified the game.”
LaBianca, now a senior himself, has 39 goals and 42 assists this year. He is up to 210 for his career.
He also has at least one more game to play. Jackson Liberty is the No. 18 seed in the NJSIAA Public C Tournament. It will battle 15th-seeded Mendham High School in the first round on Feb. 18.
The program record and the 200-point plateau were equally important to LaBianca.
“The puck from when I broke the program record is at my house on display. Right on my desk,” he said. “It makes me feel awesome. It’s an accomplishment I’ve wanted since freshman year.”
“And everyone talks about 100 points but I wanted 200,” he added. “Not a lot of players get 200.”
LaBianca has a couple offers from Division 3 programs to play collegiate hockey. But he is leaning toward attending Slippery Rock University, in Butler, Pa., a school with just a club hockey program.
At Slippery Rock, LaBianca would maybe play club hockey. But he would mainly study to become a physical therapist.
“Slippery Rock has a six-year physical therapy program, which would allow me to go right into the field I want,” LaBianca said. “I want to stay around sports since I’ve played them my whole life.”