Sophomores Mike Boyer and Lucas Gaissert have marched to the front of the scoring parade for the Hopewell Valley Central High ice hockey team this season, but the biggest difference in their games from a year ago cannot be seen by the fans.

Unless they are all neurosurgeons.

Hopewell sophomores Mike Boyer and Lucas Gaissert have stepped up their mental game for the Bulldogs’ varsity hockey squad. (Photo by Rich Fisher.)

“I knew coming into the year both of them had a lot of skill and a lot of speed, it’s just this year they’ve added the mental aspect to it,” said coach Jeff Radice, whose 15-6-2 team is preparing for the state tournament. “That goes a long way in hockey. People forget that. your brain is your most powerful tool and those two have definitely used it. They’ve used their brain, used each other, used their teammates. They’ve been nothing but great.”

The two enter state play tied for the team lead in goals with 15, while Gaissert led in assists (16) and points (31) and Boyer was second in assists (11) and points (26).

“They’ve been absolutely incredible,” senior captain Ethan Block said. “You don’t usually see a lot of underclassmen stepping up like that but we certainly have to rely on them for a lot of our points. We have a short bench with some injuries. We needed guys to step up and they definitely did that and I really appreciate it.”

Their consistency has been remarkable. Gaissert had goals in 11 games and points in 17, while Boyer had goals in 10 and points in 13. Each had a hat trick and three multi-goal games.

The biggest difference between them is Gaissert is a hockey player who also plays lacrosse, while Boyer is a baseball player who also plays hockey.

“Baseball is my main sport,” said Boyer, who started for the varsity team as a freshman. “I’m gonna try to play baseball in college. But hockey is fun for me. I didn’t play club hockey this year, I just wanted to come out, make the most of it and have some fun this year. So that’s what I’m doing right now.”

That’s not to say he doesn’t have a history with hockey. Boyer started skating at age 3 and began travel hockey at 6 years old with the Mercer Chiefs. He moved on to the Stars, Princeton and back to the Chiefs before opting to focus on the diamond other than the high school hockey season.

His time away from the ice seems to have done more good than harm.

“I don’t know if (skipping club) gave me a rest or what,” Boyer said. “I came out a little slow but I started to get my legs back and I started to feel a little better. Now I’m here and I guess I’m back to technical play.”

Gaissert began skating “at age two or three” and began organized hockey when he was 4. He played on area clubs in Lawrence, Nassau and Mercer, and is now with the Philadelphia Blazers. For him, lacrosse is the side sport as hockey is his focus.

Despite going to the same elementary school, the Pennington residents never played together until they arrived at HVCHS. Their partnership has yielded dividends.

“I like playing with him,” Boyer said. “We have fun together.”

The two had varying freshman seasons. Boyer tallied nine goals and six assists and had a hat trick against Pennington. Gaissert was slowed by injury last year. He scored two goals in his first high school game against Steinert but picked up just two assists the remainder of the season.

With both players healthy and playing full shifts as linemates this year, the production boomed.

“Since the first game we’ve played together we’ve had good chemistry with each other,” Gaissert said. “We’re really passing a lot more. I think we really decided to go out this year, give our all and help the team out.”

Boyer feels that the two have quickly gained a cohesiveness through mutual admiration.

“We’ve never really been on the same club team but I think that kind of contributes to why we do so well together on the high school level,” he said. “I feel like we’ve kind of developed a respect for each other and can really respond to each other on the backdoor.”

Radice agreed, saying “They work pretty well together. Depending on the day; we like to change things up but they work pretty well, so we usually try to keep them together.”

Aside from being impressed with their minds, the coach is quick to point out the duo also has some pretty good physical gifts.

“Both of those two guys have a ton of skill and a ton of speed to use to their advantage,” Radice said. “They look to each other on the ice. They take pucks wide and power them to the net and it’s greater success for both of them.”

It’s the fact they can skate so fast that makes them truly formidable.

“They definitely both have speed as their top attribute,” Radice continued. “They’re speedy players. And not everybody has those natural goal scoring abilities. It’s something you’re born with or born without. Both of them have been lucky enough to be graced with it by the hockey gods. It’s something they’ve used to their advantage for sure.”

Both players agree with their coach as to what they bring to the table.

“I think my speed to the outside, and power to the net with my body is probably my best feature,” Boyer said.

Gaissert noted “It’s probably some speed, some shot and playmaking ability. I try to see the ice. But you can always get better.”

Indeed you can, and Block can’t wait for when it happens.

“I’m looking forward to seeing what they do in their junior and senior years,” the captain said, “because they’re really gonna take the league by storm.”