Packer Park goalie hopes to follow the greats

Photo/Mark Zimmaro

Billy Stuski is a talented goaltender. And he’s smart, too.

Only a high school freshman, the Packer Park resident has a good grasp on whom to attempt to emulate when he’s between the pipes.

“Carter Hart,” Stuski said with a smile. “He’s from Philly and he’s a great goaltender and he’s fun to watch. It’s really inspirational because he covers his angles really well and he’s a big goaltender so it’s good to see how he moves.”

In normal times, Stuski can take a short walk to see his hero Hart play, as the 22-year-old backstops the Philadelphia Flyers at the nearby Wells Fargo Center on many fall and winter nights. Stuski has to go a bit farther to hone his own skills, as he entered his first year at Gloucester Catholic High School in New Jersey.

The opportunity to play high school hockey isn’t available in South Philly so Stuski’s parents drive him over the Walt Whitman Bridge for school and hockey. The Rams play at Hollydell Ice Arena in Sewell, which is a little farther down the road, but certainly worth the trip.

“My parents are really good people for helping me get to where I need to go all the time,” Stuski said. “They’re always bringing me to hockey. And I heard a lot about Gloucester Catholic and I really wanted to go there. My friend (Ryan Bunting) was going there so my dad put me in there. I’ve loved it ever since.”

Stuski has been longtime club hockey teammates with Bunting and several other players from Gloucester Catholic, representing a talented group of mostly sophomores who are making a statement at the high school level. Their coach, Tom Bunting, brought the group up through several club levels and now coaches them at Gloucester Catholic. Stuski is one school year behind the rest so he’s still getting his feet wet at the high school level, but the talented goalie’s time is inevitably on the horizon.

Photo/Mark Zimmaro

“Billy started playing for me when he was 9,” Coach Bunting said. “I coached him for six seasons. He’s played a ton of big games for me over the course of six years. We’ve played all over North America against some of the best teams in the country. I have a ton of faith in him.”

Bunting coached Stuski and others with the Philadelphia Little Flyers in Aston before he started a Tier 1 program at Hollydell three years ago.

Bunting has seen a lot from Stuski during that time to now he’ll be just fine against older players in high school. Right now, Stuski is the backup, but he will see some ice this season and is expected to have a huge role moving forward for one of the top high school teams in New Jersey.

“He’s played in some really stressful, high-level situations for a child,” Bunting said. “Not many kids have played under the scrutiny of playing on a No. 1 team like that. For me to throw him into the net as a freshman, I have no reservations about that. Nerves won’t be an issue. He has a ton of confidence because he’s played in so many big spots.”

Photo/Mark Zimmaro

Prior to Bunting’s arrival at Gloucester Catholic, the Rams were coached by Guy Gaudreau, father of NHL superstar Johnny Gaudreau of the Calgary Flames. The Rams have also produced NHL brothers Eric and Buddy Robinson. Eric is a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets while Buddy played for the Ottawa Senators before arriving in Calgary as a teammate of Gaudreau’s.

Stuski sees those trails and wants to follow.

“Some people went far to Division I colleges and some went to the NHL,” Stuski said. “I see those guys around the rink sometimes or playing here. It’s really cool to see. We’re trying to follow their footprints and try to play our hardest every time we’re out here.”

All he asked for was a chance. Stuski said his parents were hesitant to let him play goalie and face scorching-fast rubber fired in his direction. They eventually gave in to his pleads.

“They said no at first until I tried it out,” Stuski said. “Ever since then, I was a goalie. First or second time I got in, I got hit with a puck really hard in the head and it kind of scared me a little bit, but it grew on me. You get used to it.”

And Stuski is getting used to his surroundings at Gloucester Catholic. The Rams are a perennial powerhouse, and the young goalie is soaking it all in.

“I’m really excited to come in here and get to know these guys a little more,” Stuski said. “I’ve been hearing a lot of stories about how much of a blast it is so I’m excited to get started. Hopefully, we can win a championship.”