Thomas Jefferson hockey bids farewell to coach Bill Crousey, welcomes former NHL player

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Sunday, May 16, 2021 | 11:01 AM


Bill Crousey’s legacy as Thomas Jefferson’s hockey coach is firmly cemented.

After 12 fulfilling years behind the bench, Crousey has stepped aside from the coaching ranks.

Former TJ hockey player John Zeiler was hired to take over. Zeiler led the Jaguars to three state titles from 1998-2000, then eventually went on to a productive professional career. He was drafted in 2002 by the then-Phoenix Coyotes.

“My plan has always been to coach TJ until I hit the three-year window until I could retire from my every day job,” Crousey said. “I was fortunate to accomplish that plan. I will now concentrate on building the best pension I can. After that, I hope to coach again.”

Crousey, a detective with the West Mifflin Police Department, believes Zeiler is a great fit for the Jaguars.

“I don’t know Zeiler personally,” Crousey said. “I did meet him at our hockey banquet a few years ago when TJ retired his jersey. He was very nice. He spoke to the players about cherishing their time playing for your school. He was very passionate about hockey.

“His hockey resume speaks for itself. I have no doubt the TJ players and parents will be excited to have him as their coach. It is definitely a boost to the entire TJ hockey organization.”

Crousey is in his 23rd year working as a detective. He inherited a hockey program at TJ that won a total of 10 games in his first two seasons before he helped establish it as an annual playoff contender.

The Jaguars have advanced to the PIHL playoffs 11 consecutive times, posting regular-season records of 16-1-1, 19-1, 15-3 and 17-3 the past four years, and have qualified for the PIHL finals twice.

“I thought the team did very well in its first season back in double-A (in 2020-21),” Crousey said. “After receiving a friendly ‘welcome’ and losing our first two games, the team refocused, went to work and had a great regular season.

“I would like to thank the players for giving me their best and the parents for allowing me the opportunity to coach their child. I was blessed to have had the opportunity to coach TJ hockey.”

Now it’s the 38-year-old Zeiler’s turn.

Zeiler coached at Elizabeth Forward the past few seasons. He also holds coaching positions with the Penguins Elite and Pittsburgh Vengeance programs.

His junior training was with Sioux City of the USHL and with the Pittsburgh Hornets AAA program. Zeiler played college hockey at St. Lawrence and was named to the All-ECAC rookie team in 2002-03.

Zeiler signed a one-year contract with the Los Angeles Kings in 2007 and made his NHL debut Feb. 17, 2007, against the Anaheim Ducks. Five days later, he scored his first NHL goal against the Vancouver Canucks.

A right winger, Zeiler was a member of the in the Kings’ system from 2006-11, playing 90 games at the NHL level and 237 games with the Kings’ AHL affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs.

On a side note, Zeiler was cast as an extra in “Tooth Fairy,” a 2010 film starring Dwayne Johnson.

He spent the last four years of his career from 2011-15 in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga (German Ice Hockey League).

Zeiler inherits a TJ team that finished with a 17-2-1 record and advanced to the PIHL Class AA semifinals, where it lost a 5-2 decision to league and state champion Baldwin.

The Jaguars outscored the opposition 137-43 in 2020-21 and were led offensively by the likes of senior forwards Hunter Fairman, Eddie Pazo, Riley Holzer, Will O’Brien and Ryan Kelly.

“In the playoffs, I think we played good enough to win,” Crousey said. “However, that just wasn’t enough in the semifinals. We needed to play our best versus Baldwin and just couldn’t get it done. Our effort was there but our execution was a bit off. Good teams will do that to you.

“I think the offensive play of Fairman and Pazo this season was exceptional. They were fun to watch and helped lead the team to a lot of wins. They will be missed.”

The Jaguars had ample senior leadership in 2020-21. Along with the five high-scoring senior forwards in the lineup, TJ also was sparked by four additional seniors — goaltender Luke Ripepi, forward Luke Rayman and defensemen Brady Rotolo and Jake Gardiner.

“As for next year, you don’t lose nine seniors, especially the quality of the ones we are losing, and expect to have the same type of season as 20-21,” Crousey said. “With the talent returning there is promise. I think they are more than willing to take on the challenge.

“However, it won’t be my puzzle to build.”

Two key pieces of the TJ puzzle are expected to be juniors Nick Stock, at forward, and Brett Smith, on defense.

Stock logged four goals and 11 assists in 2020-21, after registering six goals and 11 assists as a sophomore.

Smith has accounted for five goals and 22 assists over the past two seasons.

“I feel like we have some hard-working guys on the team,” Smith said, “and I expect us to give every team we run into a run for their money (next season).

“We are a pretty young team, unlike this year, but I think we have a solid lineup all the way through the roster.”

Along with a new coach.

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