A decade and more ago, Van Stefanou skated for St. Joseph’s Prep. For five seasons now, he’s been one of the Hawks’ assistant coaches. In a sense, he has returned home.
Even as a young boy, Stefanou, a Tabernacle, N.J. native, was virtually certain he would attend St. Joseph’s Prep. It was a family tradition.
“All the men on my mom’s side of the family went to the Prep” he said, “and my great uncle was president of the Prep for 21 years. So, pending the passing of my entrance exam, I was going to the Prep. Other than that, the thought of being part of such a prestigious school with a great history was so appealing to me that going to the Prep was my only option.”
When he arrived on the school’s campus in the fall of 2006, Stefanou found himself being challenged academically and athletically.
“The classes at the Prep were definitely challenging,” he said, “and students were held to a high standard but that was expected at the Prep. I remember a lot of long nights. I would come home from Prep and club hockey practices around 9 or 10 o’clock most nights and have to start homework then.
“I also had some really amazing teachers while at the Prep. To name a few, Mr. Hart, Mrs. (Kathleen) Sullivan, and Mr. (Andrew) Whelan were the teachers that left a longing impression after the Prep and instilled some of the qualities in me that I hold today.”
Today, Stefanou is appreciative of the support he received from the faculty during his high-school years, and the support he and his fellow students provided each other.
“While the Prep and extracurriculars were a challenge every day, my classmates and teammates were always there for each other,” he said. “I don’t keep in touch with them as much as I’d like to but we usually see each other at our alumni game every November and it’s great to catch up with them and hang out.”
During Stefanou’s years at the school, the St. Joseph’s Prep hockey program was still evolving into what it later became.
“It still felt like the program was in its early stages with a lot of potential for the future,” he said. “There were several coaches that put a lot into the program. You don’t really appreciate all that they do until you’re one of them.
“The program has definitely grown since I played. Winning a state championship like we did (in 2018) was almost unthinkable for us and now it feels like it’s attainable every year.
“That just goes to show how much the program has progressed in the last eleven years. I was proud to be part of the Prep hockey team then and am very lucky to coach now. I was part of a great group throughout the four years and I couldn’t have asked for a better class.”
After high school Stefanou played two years of junior hockey, a year in British Columbia and Washington in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League and then a year in North Carolina in the EJHL South.
From there, he played four years at UMass Dartmouth; as a freshman he played for a team that won a conference championship and qualified for the NCAA Division III tournament.
Today, Stefanou is proud to be coaching at the school that shaped his life.
“My four years at the Prep built the foundation of my character today,” he said. I took many values from my time at the Prep including humility, integrity and perseverance. It’s what brought me back to coach five years ago. When I was given the opportunity to give back to the Prep, there was no question in my mind that I would do it.”
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