Job Well Done

‘Cohesive’ Raiders Off To Fast Start On The Ice

Above is the Jamestown Raiders hockey team. In the front row, from the left, are, Will Steen, Josh Brown, Blade Ellis, Kaleb Bender, Tommy Chapman, Tristan Spillane, Josh Spontaneo and Luke DePonceau. In back head coach Joe Gerace, Jack Brinkley, Jadon Barron, Cole Snyder, Brian Burns, Cade Poston, Kole Maytum, Josh Walsh, Cam Turner, Drake Bell, Ben Bloomquist, Jacob Gerace, Patrick Guimond, assistant coach Tommy Gerace and assistant coach Joel Walsh. P-J photo by Jay Young P-J photo by Jay Young

Even if you don’t spend much time walking around the twin ice rinks inside Northwest Arena watching hockey, it’s is easy to tell that the roster of the Jamestown Raiders hockey team has the precursors of success.

The names of standout players from golf and football and other sports jump off the page, letting you know that many of the skaters that have come together from disparate school districts already have what it takes to make it in a competitive environment.

Individual talent notwithstanding, head coach Joe Gerace knew that there was more at work for this year’s team, which has started off with a undefeated record in the Blue Division of the Western New York High School Club Hockey League, and an overall mark of 12-2.

“I think the chemistry is very different than we had last year. This team is very cohesive,” Gerace said. “I’ve coached a lot of these kids from when they were Squirts and PeeWees and up, and we know what we are going to get from each player, but they’ve raised their game to even a higher level than we expected.”

To put this year’s explosive start to the season in better perspective, some basic numbers set the stage.

Jamestown Raiders captain Jacob Gerace, standing, is flanked by assistant captains Cade Poston, left, and Cole Snyder. P-J photo by Jay Young

The Raiders’ top line of Jadon Barron, Jacob Gerace and Cade Poston have amassed 23, 22 and 21 points respectively while Barron sits at plus-27, Gerace plus-21 and Poston plus-28.

All told, there are five Red Raiders averaging more than a point a game, including Kole Maytum, Josh Walsh and Cole Snyder, the last of which has amassed four goals, 14 assists and a staggering plus-38.

“All of our players have bought into the system that we gave them at the beginning of the year right from our first team meeting,” said assistant coach Tommy Gerace, Joe’s son. “Every line has a job, and they know their job, whether that’s shutting down the opposing top line, whether that’s getting the puck deep and grinding, whether that is playmaking and scoring goals. Every line has a job and these kids are very coachable, and they’ve all bought into a system that we’ve given them and it’s shown.”

While the skill of the Raiders on the ice is readily apparent, the work that has been done behind the scenes in practice has been just as instrumental in this year’s success.

The Raiders were able to add a third practice per week this year, and have been able to maximize their usable ice time thanks to some new organizational methods that Tommy Gerace has brought to the table.

Sitting in the stands above a Raiders practice, you will notice that as little time as possible goes to standing around, and everyone seems to know exactly where they should be and what they should be doing.

The Raiders’ coaching staff has also placed a lot of confidence in its players, allowing them to run NHL-caliber schemes for both their power play and penalty killing units, the latter of which has produced fits in most of the teams that have had to face it.

“These kids want to be on special teams, and if you want to make the cut, if you will, you have to perform,” said Joe Gerace. “So they take pride in it, shutting these guys down. They come to the bench sometimes giggling because on their shift they couldn’t get out of their zone. The guys are having fun, and when they are having fun it makes it so much easier to get effort out of them because they are enjoying it, they enjoy it on the ice and off the ice, which is important.”

Like so many successful hockey teams, the Raiders have placed a premium on tenacious forechecking, not only on their penalty kill, but also across all their shifts and lines.

Their style of play also emphasizes puck possession and the ability to smother teams on their breakout, creating turnovers by putting pressure on first passes.

“We are a puck-possession team, that is our focus. We preach a relentless forecheck. We’ve had the pleasure of coaching these kids for a few years, and this forechecking system has evolved as they’ve gotten older,” Tommy Gerace said.

It goes without saying that the Raiders have also had a strong goaltending corps to rely on when they do face pressure in the defensive zone, with Thomas Chapman and Kaleb Bender each earning time between the pipes.

While the team has had the benefit of grabbing supremely talented athletes that have been able to shine in other sports, they have also been lucky enough to absorb players that bring leadership along with skill.

After finishing a phenomenal season on the football field with the Southwestern Trojans, Snyder has brought the same focus and intensity to his time on the ice, leading the Red Raiders in off-ice training as well as an alternate captain.

“Snyder is one of these kids that, I don’t care what sport you throw him in he’s going to do well. He’s a heck of a baseball player, tremendous football player, he was a goalie for most of his life,” Joe Gerace said. “He wanted to be the off-ice coordinator. He and Jake (Gerace) and Cade (Poston) have done a great job. (Earlier this week) they ran two miles before they hit the ice.”

Joining Snyder in the transition from turf to ice has been Brian Burns, who served as one of the Trojans primary running backs during a 7-3 season.

Filling whatever role his team needs no matter the sport, Burns has tallied eight goals and five assists in his start to the year.

“Brian Burns is, if I could pick one player … the heart and soul of what we preach. He’s the heart and soul of the Jamestown Raiders,” said Tommy Gerace. “He will provide you with a big hit, he will provide you with a big goal. He might not wear a letter on his jersey, but he is absolutely a leader in the locker room, on the ice. He gets the team laughing, he gets them serious.”

To this point, the only blemishes on the Raiders record have come in the form of 4-1 and 2-0 losses to East Aurora/Holland during tournament play, a team that plays in a higher division.

“We told the kids, that’s a good loss for us, we needed that loss, because we saw the competition that we were going to need to play to make states, to win states,” said Tommy Gerace. “That game sparked our kids and we came back and beat Iroquois, which is two divisions ahead of us. We beat Cheektowaga to go to the championship game.”

Jamestown will now have another chance to test its merit against strong-playing teams as they host Meadville on Jan 20 at 2:30 p.m., while two-time state champion Fredonia will make the trip to Northwest Arena for Senior Night on Jan. 27 at 8 p.m.