There is a new head coach for the St. John Vianney of Lincroft ice hockey team, but the Lancers are not looking for a so-called “new beginning.”

With former assistant Kyle Earley taking over, the main thing he seeks is continued improvement from the successful foundation that former coach Mick Messemer established.

Last year’s Lancers finished 14-6-1 and won the Shore Conference North Division title and the Egan Conference championship. They reached the Handchen Cup finals and the quarterfinals of the NJSIAA Non-Public tournament.

“We want to get to that next level,” Earley said. “We’re looking to win the Egan again, win the Shore Conference again and in the state tournament we’re looking to get further than last year. If we do that, it will be a successful season for us. Obviously, we’d like to win it all but we’re just looking for progress each year.”

The 2008 SJV graduate liked what he saw prior to the Lancers season-opener at Northern Highlands Dec. 8.

“They look good so far,” Earley said. “We’re scoring a lot of goals (11 in two games), which is good to see in the preseason games. All our goaltenders have been looking good, and it’s been the same thing defensively.”

SJV graduated its top two goal scorers but returns senior captain Mike Reed, who had 12 goals and 14 assists last year.  

“He’s definitely going to be putting the puck in the net and getting some points,” Earley said. “He’ll not only be scoring but setting up some other guys. He’s got a good nose for the net. He’s unbelievable as far as passes to make and knowing where his teammates are to set them up.”

Reed will be centering the all-senior first line between Nick Viola (7 goals, 9 assists last year) and Dom Mazzella (1 goal, 3 assists).

“Those are the guys coming back that really need to step up and score coming,” Earley said. “Those guys are hard workers, they have some speed, they move the puck well, they can see the ice well as well.”

The coach is enthused by sophomore transfers Blake Fischer, who comes in from Florida, and Canadian Nick Kasich. They will flank junior center Danny Greenhall on the second line.

“They’ve looked good in preseason and scrimmages,” Earley said. “I’m hoping the addition of those guys will help us out as well.”

The third line features junior Michael Rivelli centering sophomores Matt Doherty and Anthony Matrone. They will provide the grit that can frustrate opponents.

“We’re trying to get as many points as we can with those first two lines, and our third line is really gonna be the grinder line,” Earley said. “They’re gonna work hard, keep the puck in the zone and hopefully tire out the other team and make it easy for our first and second line.”

Senior Patrick Haines, who collected 12 assists last year, and junior Dakota Vastola, will form the top defensive tandem. Haines is also a key to the offense with his rushes from the back.

“Patrick Haines is essentially gonna be quarterbacking our offense, starting from our defensive zone and moving it out,” Earley said. “He’s gonna be a big impact player, a big leader on the ice for us as far as making sure that the forwards are getting the puck up quick.”

Another offensive player playing the blueline is junior Blaise Lucosky, who will partner with his sophomore brother, James.

“He’s more of a forward, but he’s kind of a guy I can plug in where I need him,” Earley said. “If I need an extra spark on offense, I’ll move him up.”

The final defensive pairing is a rotation of sophomores Ben Arturi and Kyle DiMarco and freshman Joe Calabria.

As for who replaces graduated goalie Dan Shallcross, Earley rotated all three of his varsity netminders in the preseason, allowing each to play one period in the two scrimmages.

“I wanted to see what each of them had,” he said. “Senior Kevin Doherty (Matt’s brother) is our starter and (sophomore) Brendan Allen will back him up right now. It’s going to be tough for us to decide but right now all three are very even. They’re all great goalies (the third is Tommy Kelly).”

It looks to be a solid cast, and one that also looks to God. Earley noted that before the start of each game the players gather around the net for a team prayer.

The transition from Messemer to Earley has been smooth, especially since Earley was an assistant for the previous five years. An “old” new face is also on board, as former SJV standout and 2015 graduate Matt Kidney has joined his alma mater as an assistant.

“To have him back in the program and basically help our offense … and to pass along his knowledge is a great addition to the program,” Early said.

It is a program trying to continue its climb to the state’s upper echelon. If they don’t make it, it won’t be from lack of effort.

“They’re all gonna be working hard,” Earley said. “They all get along great and they’re all working for each other. They’re hustling each and every time. They’re definitely gonna be a grinding group and it’s still a skilled group. But we’re not relying on skill alone. You gotta put the work in every time you’re on the ice to get anything out of it.”