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High School Ice Hockey:
An Evening Conversation with President Pontonio

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

By Mike Costantino
SJSports Staff Writer

We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Mike Pontonio, president of the SJHSIHL and head coach of the Eastern Vikings, and give him the chance to respond to some of the questions the fans have been raising. As most of you know, Washington Township is not in the league this year but will participate in the playoffs. So when was that decided and is that really fair to the other teams in the league? The new chief in charge answered those questions and more.

"That was decided at the beginning of the year. Township playing in the AAA league, which is the league that puts all the leagues together, and once that regular season is complete most of the teams that participate in the AAA games revert back to their league for the playoffs," responded Pontonio. "As far as being fair...yes because over the years, other than last year both tiers were separate until the playoffs. This year in Tier 2, the two division winners will meet for a one game championship. Then for Tier 1, it will be a double elimination tournament, including Tier 2 and Township, which will be seeded #1. Once we finalize the grid we'll make sure you have a copy so the fans can follow along. It will take up the whole month of February and should make for some exciting hockey."

Question: Instead of the crossover games, was any thought given to trying to improve the Tier 1 scheduling?
Answer: At the beginning of the year, teams wanted to play more than 14 games and not having enough ice slots in Jersey, we were able to schedule 18 games for both Tier 1 and 2 in Pennsylvania. With Mt. Laurel not opening until today, we were pretty lucky in securing the slots.

Question: We have had this discussion before. Not many people enjoy watching 9-0 games. Why not re-schedule at the halfway point?
Answer: This year was supposed to be a strong year for Tier 1. Both Rancocas Valley and Shawnee had strong teams in the spring league, but for whatever reason they each lost five or six good players that really hurt their squad and they have struggled. As the season began, I thought my team would be hard pressed to finish above fourth.

Question: Why aren't new teams that join the league put in Tier 1?
Answer: Years ago when new teams came in they started out as JV for two years and then moved up to varsity. Now you start as a varsity team, whether you're Tier 1 or 2. As an example, last year Paul VI struggled in Tier 2 and had they been in Tier 1 it would have been worse.

Question: Is there a competition committee?
Answer: Yes and these are issues we addressed.

Question: It seems there have been a decent amount of blowouts this year. What can a kid take from this?
Answer: Some of the teams that play at higher levels get blown out and they want to play at the higher level.

Question: Yes, but what do they learn from that?
Answer: It depends on the team and where they're at, if they are at Tier 2 they can only get better, Paul VI is a good example.

Question: Why schedule Tier 1 games at 5:30?
Answer: I personally see nothing wrong with that starting time. Don't forget some of these kids play on other clubs and over the years people complained about the later starting times where kids were getting home way too late.

Question: Finally, how is your first year as president been, any regrets, any changes?
Answer: No regrets, everyone has been very cooperative, some changes for next year we have talked about the crossover games, and maybe not as many, increasing Tier 1 teams. Ultimately we want the schools to sponsor the teams, it's a long haul but hopefully that will happen.

That of course is what all hockey parents want to see and I have a feeling that day is coming.

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