Judge junior flying high for hockey tournament

Tom Scannell led the Crusaders with 20 points during the season. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Tom Scannell might not be a professional hockey player, but on Wednesday morning he becomes a flyer.

Scannell is a junior at Father Judge High School, where he stars at center for the Crusaders. But this week he’ll represent the Jaguars, a South Jersey-based team at the Chipotle-USA Hockey National Championships in San Jose, California, featuring the best teams from across the country.

It’s a chance to play against the best of the best, but Scannell isn’t looking at it that way. He is going to bring home a championship.

“It’s pretty cool to fly to this and to play against the best,” said Scannell, who is going with his mom to the event. “But I really think if we play well, we can win it. We play our best when we’re playing the best.”

Scannell has been a star on skates since he started playing hockey about 10 years ago. The first year, he played street hockey on foot. Then he switched to ice hockey and he’s been having a blast ever since.

“It worked out well because a lot of kids from my neighborhood played hockey,” said Scannell, who lives in Torresdale and grew up Mayfair. “Not a lot of people play hockey, but there are about seven or eight guys from my neighborhood who played it, so we did it a lot.”

While Scannell is the only Judge player on his team, he and his neighborhood friends enjoyed quite a winter.

The Crusaders played well, advancing to the Catholic League championship before losing a heartbreaker to Cardinal O’Hara. Scannell dished out a pair of assists in the loss.

“We played well, they’re a good team, too,” said Scannell, who scored 20 points during the Catholic League season, including 14 goals. “We had good team chemistry. That helped. But we had a lot of good players, too.”

This was a breakout year for Scannell, who led the Crusaders in scoring. His play was certainly a key in helping Judge reach the championship, but he was more interested in seeing his team enjoy success than his gaudy stats.

“I think I play better when the pressure is on,” Scannell said. “I love playing in the playoffs, in big games, when you’re playing the best.

“When I was scoring, I had a lot of help. We had a really good team. That’s what got us to the championship and almost got us the championship.”

Scannell is a natural center, though he has played other positions. He’s actually played every position on the ice with the exception of goalie. He enjoys center because it poses the greatest challenge, especially on the defensive end.

“Center is good because you get a lot of opportunities to score, but I like it because you have to go everywhere on offense and defense,” Scannell said. “You have to get back on defense. You do a lot of skating, so it’s tough.

“My game is scoring. I think my best shot is my wrist shot. That takes a lot of work, you have to get good at it. It takes a lot to just get it off the ground. But if you practice a lot, you can get good at it. That’s my go-to shot.”

He works on his shot all year long.

Because it’s hard to find ice time, Scannell doesn’t get to practice as much as he’d like to during the offseason. During the season, he estimates he’s on the ice five or six days a week, but after it’s over, he usually gets there only once or twice a week. When he can’t get to the rink, he’ll work on his stick-handling with a hockey ball. But his favorite time is when he’s on the ice working on his game.

“There are places to go, but you can’t go as much,” said Scannell, who has also played lacrosse and basketball in the past. “I play with the team in South Jersey with different guys, there aren’t any of my friends from Judge, it’s almost all South Jersey guys, but I’ve become good friends with them. I’ll play there a lot.”

Now he hopes he brings home a championship with them. But even if he comes up short, he knows he’ll bring home a lot of memories.

During the trip, he will be reunited with his older brother Bobby, who lives in Los Angeles.

“He’s going to come see me play,” said Scannell, who also has a sister Riley, 15, who won’t be able to make the trip. “He’s coming down. My sister and my dad can’t go. My dad loves hockey, but my mom loves it, too. I think we’re going to have a great time.”