JOHN IOIA: History of a Germantown Academy Ice Hockey Coaching Legend

"If you're not going to give it your best effort, don't even do it. If you know you gave everything, you can hold your head up". ~ Coach Ioia 1995

This chronicle is a biographical construct from various archived personal newspaper interviews, and personal accounts from John Ioia's career as head coach of the Germantown Academy Patriots Varsity Ice Hockey Team.

By Ross Porubski
Youth Hockey Info

Fresh off of 2 straight Flyers Cup Tournament championships, 1982 & 1983, the Germantown Academy Patriots began preparation to replace Bruce Craig as head coach of the Varsity Ice Hockey program. Craig, a former Philadelphia Flyers, "Hockey Central" chief instructor prior to his appointment as head coach at GA, decided to move on to a new opportunity coaching the Tropicana Junior Flyers of the Metropolitan Junior Hockey Association following a very successful 3 year tenure at the helm behind the Patriots bench.

Enter, John Ioia.

John Ioia, GA Head Coach
Germantown Academy announced their Varsity Ice Hockey coaching successor on July 3, 1983.

John Ioia, a captain in the Philadelphia Fire Department's training academy, (father of John Ioia Jr, a junior GA varsity player) coached youth hockey at various high levels, most noteworthy the "Keystone State Games" for several years prior and was deemed the man for the job. Ioia would be immediately tasked with a rebuild situation as the roster inherited, while including some integral players from the previous season, was made up of almost exclusively freshmen, and sophomores. By February of 1984, 16 games in, the Patriots had won only 4 games, but this wasn't a bad thing as there were no real expectations in the rebuilding process. By the end of Ioia Sr.'s first season as GA head coach, his final record in the very strong SHSHL "Liberty Division" stood at (7-13-0).

Ioia's work ethic expectations, game plan, and philosophical implementations from his first season behind the bench immediately paid dividends in his second season, (1984-85). After a divisional re-alignment, The Patriots icemen blew open the gates and blasted off to an incredible 5 and 1 start in the newly aligned "Freedom Conference". From December 20, 1984, the Patriots squad finished the season on a wild (11-1-2) run winning the Conference and paving their way back into SHSHL relevance as playoff contenders.

In the first round of the playoffs, the Patriots faced the Liberty Conference 4th place Cheltenham Panthers. There was no real expectation from coach Ioia in this game, he told his players they had a great season and deserved to be there, but Cheltenham was no tomato can, in fact the Panthers were the odds-on favorite to move on to the SHSHL semi-finals. Coach Ioia said, "They're a solid hockey team, and remembered there were about 5 games we played against each other over the past 2 seasons that if I recall correctly, they all ended in wins by 1 goal for either team." Germantown won their first playoff game since the 1983 post season under former coach, Bruce Craig and advanced to the SHSHL semi-final against 1st place Cherry Hill from the Liberty Conference. in a strange turn of events, the Patriots goalie, Dan Stefano was injured in a club game over the previous weekend and was physically unable to play leaving the Germantown hockey team with nobody to mind the net. Because Germantown had no backup goalie on their roster the league approved an emergency fill in to take Stefano's place. The Central Bucks East Blazers loaned Mark Richards, son of CB East coach Andy Richards, to substitute for Stefano. Cherry Hill's offensive power was too formidable to rein in, as they finished the game 7-3 ending GA's comeback season. Either way, due to league rules, if the Patriots had won, they would not have been permitted to participate in the Flyers Cup Tournament because they had assumed the services of a player from another competing league team and made the team automatically ineligible.

Moving through the mid and late eighties, Ioia's teams had their chances teetering on becoming a powerhouse, but they seemed to be one or two players shy of really finding that extra gear to put the team over the hump.
  • In the 1985-86 season GA was (4-2-1) at the Christmas break. After returning for the second half the Patriots finished the season in 4th place and faced Central Bucks East in the playoffs, beating them handily by the score 8-3 giving them another shot in the semi-finals against the powerful Cherry Hill East team. Cherry Hill finished GA off and moved on to play in the SHSHL finals against Council Rock.
  • The 1986-87 campaign was a "growing pains" season, GA finished the season with a (4-13-0) record, good for last place and no playoff appearance, Ioia's worst finish on record.
  • Moving on to the 1987-88 season GA finally got a shot at redemption against Cherry Hill East. All of CHE's power players from 84-87 had graduated and GA had completed a full reload, primed to make a name for themselves. On Wednesday December 17, 1987, the two teams faced off in a regular season matchup at Face-Off Circle. The Patriots won the game 9-4 but the end result could've been much worse. Instead of running up the score, Ioia gave his bench guys an opportunity to get some ice time. "Cherry Hill isn't a real strong team," Ioia said. What sense would it make to beat a team by 15 goals? The object is to win, and when we got the 5-0 lead in the first period, I decided to give everybody ice time." Revenge is good but it's better when your opponent is able to play at the same level. GA finished the season with an (11-5-1) record, good for 3rd place in an extremely difficult league which included Council Rock, & CB East. The Patriots faced CB East in the playoffs and were eliminated; however, a goal had been achieved, they re-made a name for themselves earning the right to be considered a league powerhouse once again.
  • Rivalries have been adjusted; the Patriots are again a formidable foe. The 1988-89 season sees the likes of Council Rock, Central Bucks East, and Germantown Academy marking their calendars for each game they will face one another. Three extremely powerful teams with solid players in every position. Every game was a hotly contested matchup which always packed the house with fans from both sides at Face-Off-Circle. GA finished the season with an (8-3-1) record, but this time with wins against both Council Rock and CB East under their belt. The Patriots faced the Blazers in playoff action and would ultimately be outplayed allowing CB East to move on to the SHSHL Finals.
  • Uggh, 1989-90.... The season of injuries that seemed to plague most of the SHSHL teams, except for CB East. On paper, all 3 of the usual suspects were primed for contention, but CB East was favored to be top dog with both GA and Council rock duking it out for second place. Germantown stormed out of the gate to a 6-0-1 record, then it was like a black cloud moved over the school and focused exclusively on perennial all stars. Every one of the top players fell like dominoes, Cinquanto, out with a strained knee. Morgan out with a broken thumb. Vickers, out with a sprained ankle. Borichevsky, playing with a cast on a broken thumb. It was like a bad dream, if you blinked you missed it, by mid-February the Patriots record fell to (6-5-1). There would be no playoffs and GA would look to heal and come back with a vengeance in the 90's.

Everyone is back, everyone is healthy, and big changes have altered the landscape of the SHSHL for the 1990-91 season. SURPRISE, William Tennent and the rest of the NSHL teams are expanding into the SHSHL after the announcement that the NSHL would fold. A decision was made for the SHSHL to absorb the teams which needed a new home and with that expansion the league just got stronger and more competitive. With the addition of William Tennent 4 powerhouse schools would compete for number one and give the ESHL a run for their money with high production, quality, and balanced play. The Philadelphia Inquirer considered GA to be the primary threat to Council Rock, but John Ioia was optimistic about their chances. "The regular season isn't everything, and I don't know if we can beat Council Rock during the regular season," Ioia said. "But our goal is to be the best team we can be in March, and maybe we can give them a battle in the playoff." GA not only beat Council Rock during the regular season, but they also beat every team they played going undefeated with a (14-0-0) record. The Germantown Academy Patriots won their first regular season championship with their best record in the SHSHL in almost a decade. Heading into the post season, GA faced Council Rock, (14-1) CR's only defeat was to GA, a 3-2 loss in which Council Rock outshot GA by a 33-15 margin. The two best teams would meet head-to-head in the best of 3 SHSHL Finals. The Indians took game one of series, moving onto game two both teams played an extraordinarily tight game of hardnosed hockey up until mid-second period. And that's about the time when the wheels fell off. All throughout the game both teams were banging the boards and bodies forechecking and backchecking. Then a skirmish broke out in the GA defensive zone, punches were thrown, and numerous players were ejected, 3 to be exact not including the CR player. It was a mental breakdown of sorts and was ultimately the deciding factor. "I've lost games before, but I was embarrassed by what happened in the second game," said Ioia. "It isn't something I want to remember." "I have tape of the game, and up until then it was a decent game," said Ioia. "But when we lost those three players, I knew we were in big trouble." Germantown's quest for the league championship would end there. However, it wasn't the end for GA, they would move onto the Flyers Cup and won the Class AA division but lost in the State Cup Finals to Beaver High School. In the end it was a very successful season finally getting back to collecting some hardware.

The rough stuff from game 2 of the 1991 SHSHL Finals

In the 1991-92 season Germantown completed the season with an (8-4-0) record, good for third place behind undefeated Council Rock, and second place William Tennent. Again, the top 3 powers were CR, Tennent, and GA. The three would enter post season along with CB East who finished in 4th place. The Patriots faced William Tennent in the semi-finals and lost, ending another successful season.

In the 1992-93 season GA played through a very productive season in which they would see themselves make the SHSHL finals and play a 3-game series against William Tennent. The series went the entire 3 games and Tennent and came out on top, but it wasn't a problem for coach Ioia and his GA skaters as their objective was to get into the Flyers Cup Tournament and start with a clean slate. "We wanted to win the league championship, but our ultimate goal was to get into the Flyers Cup." Ioia said. "I think that winning the Flyers Cup is still very much in our capabilities, and we're excited about our chances." Coach Ioia got what he wanted, a chance at redemption meeting up against Joe Paul's William Tennent Panthers in the semi-finals of the Flyers Cup. It wasn't easy, as GA edged Archbishop Ryan in a 1-0 nail biter to move on. Germantown won their game against Tennent 5-3 and advanced to the Finals where they met up against ICSHL power, Monsignor Bonner. Hopes to win their first AAA Flyers Cup Title since 1983 were extinguished as Bonner took the best of three series two games to none.

The 1993-94 season had weather problems, and that's an understatement. The relentless series of snow and ice storms did major damage to the SHSHL schedule. Various postponements and cancellations left league officials with no other choice but the restructure the playoff format. GA and CR bounced back and forth all season long jockeying for ownership of first place but in the end, CR took the season crown while GA, (13-3-2) finished the season in third place. GA eliminated William Tennent from the playoffs and advanced onto the SHSHL Finals to face the Council Rock Indians. The game was a tightly contested 2-2 affair and had to be decided in OT. The Indians wound up scoring the winning goal and won the SHSHL championship. Both teams moved onto the Flyers Cup tournament in Class AAA play, but GA would be the one with the last laugh as they found themselves in championship play going up against the ESHL Haverford Fords. The Patriots went the full games after splitting the first two, but in the third game it was Germantown who skated way with the 5-2 win, earning coach Ioia and his Patriot skaters their first Class AAA Flyers Cup Title. Germantown headed out west to meet up at Rostraver Arena against the big bad Meadville Bulldogs, a buzzsaw of a hockey team. Coming in, on paper GA was considered the underdog, as Meadville entered play with back-to-back state titles. GA was unable to find a way to matchup against the formidable foe and lost the game 3-0. The Germantown Academy Patriots are back and there's more to come.
  • Going back-to-back in 1994-95 was in the crosshairs of coach John Ioia and he's brought in reinforcements, his son, John Ioia Jr. as assistant coach. John Jr. played for his father in Ioia Sr.'s first 2 seasons behind the bench. John Jr. was instrumental in helping the program continue to run at a high level after the exit of former coach, Bruce Craig. The younger Ioia was a standout player for the Patriots who moved on after graduation to captain the hockey team at Penn State University. The Patriots blew through the regular season with an (18-0-0) record, number one in the league and easily the regular season champions. Not to be outdone, GA destroyed Council Rock in the SHSHL Finals and immediately redirected their sights on the Flyers Cup. GA met up against the ICSHL's powerful Downingtown Whippets and sat them down in the best of 3 series winning both of the first 2 games to be crowned Flyers Cup Champions in back-to-back seasons for their second time in almost 15 years. The next mission wouldn't be so easy, Germantown once again would have to face the Meadville Bulldogs in the Pennsylvania State Cup Championship held in Havertown at the Skatium. However, there is a twist. The Patriots played the Bulldogs in a mid-season cross state non-league game and won convincingly with a 7-3 score. Unfortunately, the Bulldogs power was again too much for Ioia's squad to penetrate. The Bulldogs won States again, 4-1 but something magical was began to take shape. The Patriots began what would be a regular season record no loss streak which to this day has yet to be broken.

  • In 1995-96 Germantown went (18-0-2) returning to the Flyers Cup Championship facing LaSalle. LaSalle won the 3-game series 2 games to none.

  • In 1996-97 Germantown went (20-0-2) after losing 7 seniors from the previous season. They still managed to win the American Division title but bowed to the Council Rock Indians in their Flyers Cup semi-final, 2-1 cutting short their bid for a 3rd consecutive appearance in the Flyers Cup Finals.

Coach John Ioia's 5th visit to the
Flyers Cup AAA Finals in
the last 8 seasons

In 1997-98 Germantown went (22-0-1), primed for another post season run they rolled through the regular season with the league's best record sending them into the SHSHL championship against the North Penn Knights. North Penn gave the Patriots a very respectful run for their money, but GA once again walked away with the league championship after a 4-3 OT win. GA faced The Eastern Regional Vikings in the quarter final of the Flyers Cup Tournament, beating them convincingly by a score of 9-0. Moving on to the semi-finals, GA next faced another New Jersey High School team, the Washington Township Minutemen. This game would go the same route as the Patriots previous game taking down Washington Twp by a score of 6-0. The Patriots were fired up and ready for battle after scoring 15 goals to both of their prior opponents zero, their next opponent would be the La Salle Explorers for all of the marbles.

1998 Flyers Cup Class AAA Championship

  • In the 1998-99 season GA went (22-0-1) with the best record in the SHSHL again. However, pesty Council Rock bested GA two games to none winning the SHSHL title before both teams moved on to the Flyers Cup Tournament. GA won game one of the first round, beating South Jersey's Lenape High School by a score of 7-6. In the second round the Patriots faced off against the Father Judge Crusaders, winning by a score of 6-4. It all came down to the semi-finals where GA met the Conwell-Egan Eagles. Egan's squad was too powerful for the Patriots to contain as the Eagles skated away with a 7-2 victory ending GA's bid for the Flyers Cup Title.

Heading into the 1999-00 season, Ioia had an astonishing (100-0-6) record. An unbeaten streak spanning over the course of 5 straight seasons, an accomplishment which to this day has never been matched by any other coach in Southeastern Pennsylvania High School Ice Hockey. Ioia's final record for the entire decade through the 90's stood at a remarkable (161-13-9) with 6 straight season titles, 3 SHSHL titles, and 6 trips to the Flyers Cup Finals, including one Class AA and two Class AAA Championship Titles. The unbeaten streak finally came to an end in GA's very first game of the season, a 2-0 loss to the Abington Ghosts. Ioia notified athletic director Jim Fenerty that this would be his final season as head coach. Ioia said, "the five-month hockey schedule, which for GA begins in early November and ends in late March, placed too many constraints on his schedule and allowed little time for vacationing." That didn't always sit well with his wife, MaryAnn. "She knows we're in a position now to take longer vacations," Ioia said. "I think she's getting a little antsy." John Ioia stamped his legacy as GA's only coach with the winningest record of all time. Also not to be missed, Ioia is a member of the Germantown Academy Hall of Fame inducted as a member in 1996, immortalized for his very many accomplishments during his tenure coaching.

Coach Iowa was my first coach to ever treat me like a peer. Goalies are a strange bunch, I know, and his way of working with me was different than any coach before, or after him. In 1987 before I was a freshman at GA, I met with coach about playing for him. I was playing 90 game seasons with the Little Flyers and had a full-time goalie coach. John said he would love to coach me but would leave the goaltending part to me. He was a great leader, and knew how to get the most from his players. I was not used to a coach being so friendly and almost fatherly, besides my father coaching early on. He would ask me before games, "you good?", and I would give a nod. That was it. After games he would always give me a pat on the shoulder and tell me good job, this is easy for you with a wink. I enjoyed playing and winning for him because he made sure I was loose and having fun out there. He knew the game, but more importantly, he knew people, and how to lead them. The world lost a great man in John, and he will be deeply missed. My condolences to his family and close friends.
Tom Gurka
GA Patriot 1988 - 1991

I began playing JV in 8th grade and practiced with Varsity but didn't play there until 9th grade in 1988-89. I took my lumps but always got a good firm handshake and gratuitous "good game" from coach Ioia after even though I never really factored in. It wasn't until my senior year when coach recognized me for my production and spoke of my overall game play after our matchups. He was always kind and respectful to myself and my teammates no matter what the outcome. He is definitely one of the best coaches ever to have graced the benches in Southeastern Pennsylvania High School Varsity Ice Hockey.
Ross Porubski #24
CR Indians 1987 - 1992

My senior year he and his wife invited a hockey player from the Czech Republic to live at their home while attending school and playing at GA. Radim thrived with John’s support and is one of my best friends to this day. That is all thanks to Mr. Ioia and his family. Game speeches were always positive. Sure, there were sometimes when we got yelled at and deserved it. He held all of his players accountable. You were motivated to perform and work hard for his respect and approval because of the man he was, not because of fear or shame. Wining the Flyers Cup was always the goal for every season. We made it to the finals 3 out of 4 years that I was there. He kept us calm and made us believe we belonged there. We played with no pressure, no tightness. His support and belief in us helped us capture two of those championships. He is a legend of Philadelphia hockey. His true legacy is living with the people whose lives he touched. He always had a welcoming smile and an unforgettable laugh. I will miss him. I want to thank his family for sharing a wonderful human with all of us.
Rob Shaner #20
GA Patriot 1991 - 1995

Hearing coach Ioia passed away hit hard. He never changed that kindness, that warmth, even in a frigid ice rink, even after all he must have seen in decades as a firefighter. I hope I thanked him enough for the opportunity to manage the GA Hockey team all of those wonderful years. I couldn't have dreamt, (and I had big dreams!) of the incredible journeys the privilege of that "job" kickstarted. I loved the game, but really LEARNED it those nights in Warminster and Bristol and wherever else early 90s hockey took us. It was HARD to be a woman in/around what was fully still considered a men's sport, even in high school. I had no females in the industry to emulate; it was just me and my Flyers jerseys and my overflowing love for the game. Just about everyone thought it was nuts, and many assumed I only loved hockey because I was a bit boy crazy, (ok, maybe that was a bonus). That assumption still follows all women in all sports. But coach trusted in me and taught me and years later, I was doing my dream job(s). Pro athletes were taking my advice and I was confident enough to give it. It all started with coach and John Jr and those GA guys - who I've seen grow into pretty great men, btw. Thanks always, coach. Enjoy dancing with Mrs. I forever.
Melissa Wilson Yashin - Team Manager
GA Patriot 1988 - 1992

John was not only a friend and a key part of so much we all did to put high school hockey on the map, but he was a great guy all around. In the 80's and 90's did so much for so many, and hearing of his loss brought a tear to my eye. I spent many a night at games with him and after. He was the kind of person you could always count on. John never favored his son on the teams he coached. If anything, he was tougher on John Jr.
Andy Abramson - Founder, Flyers Hockey Central & The Flyers Cup Tournament

I don’t have one specific ‘best memory’ but looking back - and seeing him at alumni games decades after graduation - I’ve come to appreciate how selfless a man he was. He coached our team and truly cared about his players, was a firefighter, had a beautiful and accomplished family and even housed an exchange student/hockey player from the Czech Republic our senior year. His was truly a great man and a wonderful role model; as a father now, I can appreciate his commitment even more. We had some great teams those years and many of us are still very close 30-years later and I think Coach Ioia had a hand in that; his enthusiasm was apparent, he loved our team, and we all had fun together on and off the ice with Coach the center of some of our best memories.
Ryan Kilstein #10
GA Patriot 1991 - 1995

I think that many of us might not have a specific memory of coach Ioia – just general reflections. And, now that I have two kids who are in youth sports – I see how much of a good thing that is. What I mean by that is that for coach Ioia, coaching, and the success we had, was never about him. We won two Flyer’s Cups playing at GA, and coach Ioia always let the focus be on us. Similarly, we lost two State Championship games and a Flyers Cup final during my time, and I don’t recall a negative word ever coming out of his mouth. Having played for, and seen, a number of coaches since then, I think he’s a rare breed. Those four years playing high school hockey were some of the fondest memories of my life and the guys on that team are some of the best friends I’ll ever have. I think a large part of that is because coach Ioia let us be a team – and helped mold us into a team.
Jeremy Brooks #12
GA Patriot 1991 - 1995

He was a man I looked up to as a coach. He was firm and kind, a genuine leader. I have very fond memories of my time with him. God bless Mr. Ioia. Heaven gained a great coach
Mike McDevitt
North Catholic

I have so many memoires of Coach Ioia, and similar to what we've heard from so many of his players they involve the make up of the man himself . One memory that always sticks out was a game my senior year against Lasalle. The previous year in the Flyer Cup Championship, I suffered what many thought was a career ending injury on a dirty play. This never sat well with Coach as he thought the way the other team handled it was against one of the core principals he instilled in his players, integrity. The following year, after the game was played, Coach Ioia walked up to the opposing coach and without loosing his temper, eloquently articulated his thoughts on how he handled the situation wrong, explained the right way to handle it, and how the behavior set a bad example to the players. I often reflect on that moment and how coach didn't have to go out of his way to support me so long after the event occurred. However, being the standup man he was, he felt it was his duty as a coach and more importantly as a good human being, to lead by example with honor, integrity, and respect. I try to exemplify these traits that I saw on that day and many other days with him in the rink throughout my life. Rest in Peace Coach!
Scott Seltzer #14
GA Patriot 1993 - 1997

Historical content credit

  • Don McKee | Philadelphia Inquirer
  • Mike Missanelli | Philadelphia Inquirer
  • Gary Miles | Philadelphia Inquirer
  • Scott Huff | Philadelphia Inquirer
  • Rick O'Brien | Philadelphia Inquirer
  • Germantown Academy Alumni
  • PRISM Sports
  • Suburban Cable Sports

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