Stafford Leader Winter Sports Preview

Wasilewski Seeks a Culture Change Within Southern Regional Ice Hockey Program

Dec 14, 2018
Photo by: David Biggy Junior defenseman Justin Braun is among a relatively small group of experienced players back back on the ice for the Southern Regional ice hockey team this season.

For all intents and purposes, let’s just call what last season was for the Southern Regional ice hockey team – a total bust. New head coach Dan Wasilewski’s first priority for this season, following that 4-12-4 campaign, was to start changing the culture within the program.

“Culture might as well be tattooed across my forehead, because that is what we’re trying to do, change the culture,” Wasilewski said. “It doesn’t matter who you are or where you came from, now’s the time to put your ego aside and move ahead together. If any one head gets too big, we’re going to put that away right now. We need clear and present expectations on how we’re going to act, what we’re going to be on the ice and why it needs to be that way.”

An assistant with the team the previous few seasons, Wasilewski said the starting point to that culture change is a shift in mindset, particularly not trying to shift blame around when things aren’t going well.

“What we’re trying to get to and what we’re looking for this season is to develop a team with a stronger sense of accountability,” he said. “We want to make sure when things don’t go right that we don’t want to see finger-pointing. Instead, we want to see ownership, holding each other accountable and building our family through taking responsibility for what we’re doing on and off the ice.”

Of course, the intent is to change more of the intangibles and have them translate into more tangible things on the ice – winning starts with doing things the right way. Through the first three games of the season, the Rams appear headed in the right direction. They’ve won two of those contests, including a 4-2 victory over Brick on Dec. 7. Southern started the season with a 12-0 drubbing of first-year program Pennsauken on Nov. 26, which was followed by a 6-1 loss to Point Pleasant Borough on Nov. 30.

“We have a lot of young players with a lot of talent, and they’re going to go through some ups and downs at times,” Wasilewski said. “But that’s OK because we trust who we have on the team and believe in them. The learning process is figuring out the dynamics – how we take the pieces we have and make them work together with synergy. We have to find that right niche for everybody and what the chemistry is going to be. That takes a little time to develop, but we’re confident it will.”

The Rams entered the season with just three seniors on the roster, forwards Joe Cajzer, Jake Drazin and Andrew Garcia, along with a half-dozen juniors, including defensemen Jeff Leonard, Justin Braun, Lasse Lehmann and Andrew Brock and forwards Andrew Irwin and Zach Minafo.

But with 14 of the Rams’ 23 players being sophomores or freshmen, Wasilewski is going to need many youngsters to step up and be effective in various roles.

Among the younger players filling those roles are sophomore defenseman Josh Irwin and forwards Rich Romano, Parker Lech, Will DiStefano, Mason Hall and Corbin Siek, along with goaltender Brandon Hennessey. The freshman corps includes forwards Brooks Hradek, Matt Leonard, Sam Centanni and Christopher Laureigh, as well as defensemen Yater Henry and goaltenders Trey Mattern and Katie Braun.

“We have assembled a team that we believe will be successful in the long run, and each member of the team has a unique role in that process,” Wasilewski said. “We have people who are saying and doing the right things in a team-oriented sense, and we’re fully expecting to become a better team as the season goes on.”

The Rams were scheduled to face Lacey on Friday, Dec. 14, will square off against Toms River South on Wednesday, Dec. 19, before taking a short break for Christmas, and then returning to Winding River Ice Rink in Toms River for the Winding River Holiday Invitational tournament, beginning on Dec. 26.

David Biggy

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