EWJ isn’t short for some government agency or the name of an old airline.
It’s the newly created acronym that represents a group of hockey players from Wheatley and Jericho who joined forces this season to form a powerhouse in the Nassau hockey league.
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With one game left in its first season as a combined squad, East Williston-Jericho has sealed the top seed in the Michelino Division to earn a bid to the NYSCSH Large School division championships, and are a win away from finishing 15-0 heading into the county playoffs.
“I thought there would be issues because we had kids coming from two different programs, but I guess because we’re neighboring districts, there was a little more camaraderie than I anticipated,” East Williston-Jericho coach Jon Turk said. “We got along well right from the beginning.”
EWJ has leaders from both Jericho and Wheatley — the high school in the East Williston school district — as the top players from both programs have complemented each other perfectly.
East Williston retained its leading scorer and its goaltender from last season in Matthew Bernot and Graham Turk, and Jericho brought in top defensemen, brothers Andrew and Adam Fox, and power forward Anthony Modica to complete a well-rounded roster.
“Jericho had defenseman that could step in and make it a perfect match as far as what we needed and what they needed with holes to fill,” said Turk, who coached East Williston’s team last season. “This team just has so much talent.”
But talent isn’t everything.
Turk said senior leaders such as Andrew Fox, Turk and Bernot were key in helping the team bond off the ice, but noted that winning tough games as a unit is what made EWJ click.
It started early in just the third game of the season against perennial playoff team Bellmore-Merrick on Nov. 26. EWJ trailed 4-3 late in the third period, but tied the score and then won it on a goal by Bernot with 1:30 to play. Later in the season, EWJ handled Lynbrook-East Rockaway, the first-place team in the Liberty Division, 7-4, and edged the defending Michelino champion Long Beach, 4-3, on Jan. 19, in a battle of the last two unbeaten teams in Nassau.
It’s those experiences that have EWJ focused on winning a Michelino title and a state championship.
“Winning always breeds chemistry. It’s special when you’re undefeated and have a state bid already, and we’ve had some exciting victories, too, and that always pulls the team together,” Turk said. “Our goal from the beginning has been a state championship, but we want to back up this so-far-undefeated season with a division championship, as well.”