WEST POINT, N.Y. - "Building a brotherhood, not a neighborhood" was what Coach John Hynes hoped his players took away from the team's trip to the U.S. Military Academy.
The Devils spent two and a half days at historic West Point as part of their training camp experience. It was an opportunity to build strong bonds, get to know one another better and build towards being a greater team. And that's exactly what happened.
"It's been a great kind of learning experience here at West Point," captain Andy Greene said. "As a younger team this year, I think it's very important for us to come here and bond as a team. I think it's been a great experience for all of us."
The Devils were greeted by Brian Riley, the Army West Point hockey coach, upon their arrival. The team spent their first day on a hike in Fort Montgomery up Bear Mountain. Creating a little competition, each group had to carry a rock to the top and the one with the heaviest rock was proclaimed the winner. It's an exercise in teamwork, commitment to a task and perseverance, all qualities that are necessary in building a strong and successful hockey team.
Those lessons ran deep throughout the time spent at West Point with leadership talks from lieutenants and majors from all walks of the Army life.
Day 2 started like most days do for a hockey player: with practice. This one a little more special, running 90 minutes in length and held in front of a local crowd. Fans gathered to watch the team prepare for the upcoming season, and players took time out of their mornings to sign autographs and take pictures. Practice was the most routine part of the day, however. What followed were Army training exercises, with the Devils put to the test by several Majors and Generals.
The team ate in the Mess Hall for lunch along with all 4,400 West Point students, and sitting with the school's hockey team before taking off for training and obstacle courses. The group sat in on a lecture of mental training, as talk designed to teach them that not everything will always go their way, despite their being peak athletes. They were taught how to reframe their thinking when things veer off track in a hockey game with a message called "Reset it and Get It." The thinking behind this method is learning what your next immediate target is after something negative has happened, be it a bad pass, letting in a goal or taking a bad penalty. Learning how to refocus one's energy on the next immediate goal is a simple skill that can make a big difference.
There was also time for fun and games. Split off into different groups, every player had an opportunity to try out relaxation pods, mind games and reflex work.
Among the team building exercises was a trip into the woods for an obstacle course. Split into two groups, each had a given task to get all their men across a designated area without touching the ground. With team leaders chosen, the group had two minutes to plan their strategy, and 15 minutes to execute the operation. Communication was of prime importance, and trust and teamwork were paramount to completing the task in the allotted time.
No day was completed without a leadership talk of some sort, where speakers shared their army experience and helped relate it to the brotherhood of playing for one another in a hockey game.
"Whether you're American, Canadian, Swedish or Swiss, to see part of this history here at West Point has been a really good experience," said Greene, who spent time talking to the captains of the West Point hockey team during the trip.
The team finished the trip with a stop at Trophy Point for a team picture, and a history lesson of the area. Overlooking part of the Hudson River was a perfect end to a successful team bonding trip, where this Newark neighborhood became a band of brothers ready for the 2017-18 NHL season.