Hockey has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Its the only sport that I ever enjoyed as a kid and was the only sport that I was even remotely good at playing. The sport has certainly come along way in the New Jersey area over the last 25+ years. Back then there were only a few enclosed rinks that were available year round and only a few more outdoor rinks that allowed for decent ice from November until some time in March depending on the temperatures. Now, there are tons of rinks especially in the north and central part of the state. New rinks were popping up left and right due to the large numbers of new players coming into the sport fueled by a professional franchise that went from a losing team plucked from the mountains of Colorado to six-time Stanley Cup Champions.
Before I ever held a stick or strapped on the pads, I was on the ice taking basic skating lessons from an instructor that coached figure skaters. It was here that I really learned how to ice skate, which for some reason is a step that is pretty much skipped today by most new players. Its painful watching kids attempt to play hockey when they can’t stop or can only turn in one direction. Once I had a decent skating ability, I began playing hockey which included summer camps, clinics and the town house league.
A few years later I convinced my father to let me play in the net. I mean, what could he really say to me… he was a goalie. So I got my first pair of pads which of course were wrapped in tan leather and stuffed with some sort of hair-like material … old school! Then came my first crack at playing travel hockey which was at the B level as a squirt. Of course there was no AAA or AA at that time, but for some reason the letter ‘B’ has become a dirty level in hockey… even for very young kids. Does the level really matter at the squirt level? I mean, looking back I can’t think of anyone from the ‘A’ team that went one two great things in hockey … yet, I do recall a player from the lower level team (obviously not me) going on to play Div. I in college and make an NHL team … and even has his own Stanley Cup ring. Morel of the story, kids progress at different speeds and it doesn’t matter what level you play as a kid as long as you have some fun and continue to progress.
For my peewee through midget years I played with a few different organizations and even made it to the US Nationals one year … we got smoked! At age 15/16 I joined a Junior B team and played along side players that were 20/21 years old. It was a great experience and provided me an opportunity to face stronger and faster players. After graduating high school I decided continue playing hockey rather then jumping into college immediately (offers weren’t exactly plentiful). I made a team and had a chance to play in Toronto in the Toronto Metropolitan Junior League, but I decided to stay on this side of the border and played with an independent junior team out of Massachusetts. For two years I learned a ton about hockey from a former NCAA Div. I champion coach while playing all over the northeast … from Michigan to the Maritimes and everywhere in between. It was a long grueling time but was well worth it in the end. The following year I entered the University of Southern Maine where I played hockey (NCAA Div. II/III ECAC East) and obtained a BS in Electrical Engineering.
My love of the sport continues today as I continue to work in the industry, coach youth hockey, and even still play myself. I have only had the pads on once or twice since leaving college and now play out. Its great exercise and tons of fun. What else would I be doing at midnight on a weeknight? Or, maybe its just a reason to close up the bar after a game.
Unfortunately, its been a few years since I was last on the ice. Besides being hard on this old body, waking up at 6:00am after getting home at 2:00am on a game night was nearly impossible. I’ll be able to join the over 40 leagues soon, so maybe that will bring me out of retirement… no promises.