NORTH CALDWELL, NJ — The West Essex ice hockey team is beginning to turn up the energy in the stretch run of the season, and one of the main catalysts is senior captain Jack Santoro.

“I think we’re at peak chemistry, which is a perfect time of the season,” Santoro said following a 3-1 victory over Ramapo on Friday. “We didn’t get hot too early; I think we’re getting hot at the right time here.”

Santoro had a promising junior season that earned him the honor of being one of this year’s captains; but he knew he had his work cut out for him with a squad that boasts 10 underclassmen.

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“I am trying to be a leader,” he said. “We’re a young team; we have a lot of sophomores [so] I’m trying to show them the ropes basically.”

Since the start of the season, the forward has embraced the role he serves on the team as a vocal leader. Taking some of his fellow players under his wing, Santoro has done his best to articulate what the team needs to do to be successful.

“These younger guys aren’t focused for games sometimes,” he said. “They are not used to this atmosphere in high school hockey, so I’ll talk to them before the games individually to get them in the mindset of what they’ve got to do, what they should be ready for on the ice because it’s a different game out there than what they’re used to.”

Santoro and his fellow captains have focused on building team chemistry and camaraderie within the locker room; and the result of those efforts has shown in the team’s 8-8-3 record as of this week.

“We’ll hang out together [off the ice], grow team bonding [and] get tighter as a core because as a young group, we’re not really tight yet,” said Santoro. “We’re trying to get to know each other, get the chemistry up, and I think at this point in the season it’s at where it should have been all year, so I’m happy with that.”

As a player, Santoro currently leads the team in scoring output, collecting four goals and four assists for the Knights thus far. However, his main focus of improvement this season is on the opposite side of the ice.

“Individually, I wanted to become more of a two-way player,” he said. “Because we’re not as deep this year, I want to be more defensively sound rather than just offense.”

Santoro logs a significant amount of time on the ice for the group; and as his Knights career nears its end, Santoro hopes to finish strong. He recently scored the game-winning goal against Glen Rock, which sparked a two-game winning streak for West Essex.

“We didn’t play a lot of kids last week, and I had to step up and have a huge game,” said Santoro.

As the league and state playoffs draw near, Santoro has faith the team can make some noise in the high school hockey world.

“We have got four games left and we can easily go 4-0,” he said. “I know once we get to states we could make a run there…I don’t see a reason we can’t make a run in the [League Cup] playoffs as well as states.”

The Knights will take on Montcliair on Wednesday at Codey Arena in West Orange.