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Devils celebrate Hockey in Newark

by Gordy Stillman / New Jersey Devils
Hockey in Newark alumnus David Mejias was honored as the Hero of the Game Friday Night. Mejias is a military police officer stationed at the United States Military Academy. Photo by Courtney Gfroerer

Success stories are something Hockey in Newark takes great pride in, and on Friday, February 20 at Prudential Center, one highlight from the program was on full display. Sergeant David Mejias, an alumnus of the nonprofit organization and a military police officer stationed at West Point, was celebrated as part of Hockey in Newark Night during the Devils’ 4-2 win over the Canucks.

A Newark native, Mejias joined Hockey in Newark in 2004, participating until he finished high school in 2006. “I was short, so I had to play winger…I was quick though,” Mejias recalls.

In 2008, he enlisted in the Army, which was the first time he spent away from home. He has been based in Kansas, and served for over a year in Afghanistan before moving to West Point.

As a military police officer, Mejias is responsible for fulfilling the role a typical police officer would occupy, but within military installations. “If something goes wrong, if a cadet’s in trouble, we’re the police officers on the campus.”

A completely volunteer-based program, Hockey in Newark grew out of founders Keith Veltre and Dennis Ruppe’s need to develop talent for East Side High School’s struggling hockey program. As the new coaches built up the program, they never dreamed it would grow this much.

One of the first participants, Mejias remembers the team only having a couple of lines available to play in the early years. “We had two lines and four or five defensemen, that’s it.’” Mejias said. “So we were rotating every minute or 45 seconds, and nobody really wanted to play.”

In addition to honoring Mejias, the team collected gear through an equipment drive to help support one of Hockey in Newark’s main initiatives, sustaining the program’s ability to support kids learning the game at no cost.

Veltre makes clear just how valuable the gear is, saying, “For each set of equipment, that represents one more new kid on the ice. So if we get 40 sets of equipment, that’s 40 brand new kids from the city of Newark that are going to play hockey.”

Current Hockey in Newark volunteers also participated in the night’s festivities, running a table selling t-shirts shirts and other merchandise on the concourse during the game. Two participants were even featured on tickets for the game. Soraya Mota said she felt a jolt of pride when she learned she was on the tickets. She and Matty Villacis both received framed copies of the tickets along with photos and pins from the Devils and Hockey in Newark.

Mejias keeps in touch with both Veltre and Ruppe. “They keep in touch with all of their old players, and I appreciate that because not a lot of coaches do that.” When Mejias is in town, he participates in alumni activities and volunteers at practices in his free time.

For more information on Hockey in Newark, please visit www.hockeyinnewark.com

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