As the professionals headed to the locker room for the first intermission Tuesday night, a much smaller group of Devils took to the ice to a rousing ovation from the crowd at Prudential Center. These Devils were the New Jersey Devils Peewee Quebec team, a group of New Jersey all-star 12- and 13-year-olds competing in an international tournament of Peewee teams later this month.
For almost 20 years, the Devils have been represented by a team at the “Tournoi International Pee-wee Quebec,” including years featuring current NHL stars Kevin Shattenkirk and Kyle Palmieri. Even Devils Alumnus Bruce Driver competed in the tournament in 1975, playing with a Toronto-based team as a kid.
The 18 kids on the team represent some of the best players from New Jersey’s many youth hockey programs. They were selected through tryouts held over the summer and continued to play with their youth teams throughout the fall and winter, coming together sporadically to meet, practice and get sized for jerseys.
John DiNorcia, the team’s coach, says that the tournament Devils play exhibition games against teams representing the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers before heading to Quebec. DiNorcia has led the Devils Quebec team since its inception and also serves as USA Hockey’s associate director of player development for the Atlantic District.
Before the team went onto the ice, as part of their sendoff to the tournament, the team heard from Devils Alumni Grant Marshall, Ken Daneyko, Colin White and Driver, as well as John Gallucci, founder and president of JAG Physical Therapy.
Driver encouraged the team to take in the experience of the tournament, in which many teams are all-stars of their respective areas. “You’re going up there, representing New Jersey, and as four New Jersey Devils we’re proud that you’re on the team, and we’re going to certainly be pushing for you up there,” Driver said.
Marshall, Daneyko and White each joined Driver in wishing the team well, emphasizing the need to support each other and encouraging the players to have fun.
Gallucci spoke to the team about the importance of recovery after physical activity, specifically staying hydrated and the value of maintaining a healthy diet. Gallucci emphasized how hydration can keep muscles from becoming injured, and how avoiding injuries keeps players out of his office.
He also discussed the importance of doing a basic warm up routine even on days off in order to regenerate muscles and improve recovery.
History favors the players on the team having bright hockey futures. “Three-fourths of the roster ends up playing some level of college hockey,” DiNorcia said. Participants from every year of the tournament through 2008 have reached the NHL, or the former World Hockey Association, while players from later tournaments are well on their way to reaching the top tier.
The team’s track record since 2002 is also impressive. After winning the tournament that year, the Devils have made the quarterfinals four times and last year reached the after beating the Rangers’ team in the semifinals in front of over 10,000 people.
The tournament begins for the Devils on February 15, and more information on the tournament is available at www.tournoipee-wee.qc.ca/