As the regular high school ice hockey season begins to wind down and the brackets get announced for the upcoming NJSIAA Championships, there are five high school teams that regardless of the tournaments’ outcomes, can say they did something truly special in the 2013-2014 season.
Days after the New Jersey Devils played the New York Rangers in the NHL Coors Light Stadium Series, athletes from Chatham, Christian Brothers Academy, Don Bosco Prep, Delbarton, and St. Peter’s Prep were given the same chance as the pros to experience the game as it should be played; outdoors.
Standing center ice, on a rink constructed in the heart of one of the most storied Major League Baseball franchises of all time, Yankee Stadium, the handful of New Jersey high school ice hockey teams had an experience of a lifetime to play against each other, and in Delbarton’s case, out of state opponents, Catholic Memorial from Massachusetts.
“What I told our kids before the game was, long after we’re gone and dead, Yankee Stadium will still be standing and you’ll have family members, kids or grandkids of yours that can say that you played there,” said Chatham’s head coach Frank Gilberti. “ ... Luckily it turned out to be a great day.”
|The Christian Brothers Academy and Don Bosco match-up ended in a 1-1 tie, but the teams gave the fans something extra to cheer about with a game-ending shootout. (Photo / Prudential Center) |
Dressed to battle the biting cold wind, inevitable sun glare and opponents, the athletes came to the Bronx prepared to play.
“I think our guys really had an opportunity to appreciate having the cold air in your face and the sun shining in your helmet or facemask, and I think that whole experience brings back the whole thing of pond hockey,” said Christian Brothers Academy Head Coach Ryan Bogan. “ … You had to give them a chance to really appreciate them being outside, where they all start, where everyone loves to play pond hockey.”
In special games like the ones played at Yankee Stadium, the players could easily get swept up in the commotion, but not these teams. For them it was still very much game first, experience second, and the coaches reminded them of this.
“For us it was a regular season game and that meant a lot as far as seeding goes and that probably added a lot to the difficulty of adjusting to a game. You’re telling the kids, ‘Hey, enjoy yourselves, but this is a really big two points we need this,’ and I think that added to the overwhelming aspect of the situation,” explained the CBA head coach.
The first game ended in a one-to-one tie between Don Bosco Prep and Christian Brothers Academy, but what got written on the stats sheet does not reflect what happened out on the ice. As the rambunctious fans cheered for an overtime situation, the two teams decided instead, to put a little extra fun into the action with a game-ending shootout.
Don Bosco goaltender, Jarred Liscio stopped all five attempts taken on his net while members of his team connected twice to technically give them the win. However, in this case, surrounded by Yankees memorabilia, there was no true winner or loser.
“For the kids, it was a fun experience. The way I see it, they were able to take a penalty shot at Yankee Stadium, in a shootout at Yankee Stadium,” Bogan said.
Games continued over the next two days as Delbarton played Catholic Memorial from Massachusetts and St. Peter’s Prep and Chatham played each other.
Delbarton broke the mold and played out-of-state opponents, who travelled from Red Sox territory to Yankee Stadium to take on the eight-time NJSIAA state champions. If the experience wasn’t enough for Bruce Shatel’s team, the Green Wave’s strong goaltending and third period play gave them the 3-0 win.
What I told our kids before the game was, long after we’re gone and dead, Yankee Stadium will still be standing and you’ll have family members, kids or grandkids of yours that can say that you played there ... - Chatham Head Coach Frank Gilberti
Then, on Super Bowl Sunday as the Broncos and the Seahawks prepared to play at Met Life, on the NFL’s largest stage, Chatham and St. Peter’s Prep took to the ice at The Big Ballpark in the Bronx to play some outdoor hockey.
Just as Coach Bogan reminded his team to keep their heads in the game, so did Coach Gilberti. With NJSIAA rankings so close, every game counts. Gilberti allowed for his team to enjoy the view for exactly two minutes during warm-ups before bringing their focus back to the game.
“We had a 10 minute warm up and I told them, ‘Look, for the first two minutes of that 10 minute warm up I want you to skate around, I want you to have your head in the clouds, I want you to look at the empty seats and to look at your fans. Look at your logo on the jumbotron, and really take in the moment, take in the experience, but once we get to eight minutes … we have to get ready to go,” described the Chatham head coach.
The teams managed to keep things close with just one point separating the two as the play clock ticked down to zero time left. Chatham got the 3-1 point advantage early in the third period when Ryan Barnett notched his second goal of the game, and third of the year.
“The ice conditions weren’t very good, it was a warm day, the ice was very, very sluggish and we weren’t able to get a nice cut, which believe it or not, probably played into our advantage,” said the Gilberti about his team’s win. “St. Peter’s is a really skilled team that thrives on an up tempo style. They’re very creative when it comes to moving the puck and when ice conditions are slow like that, it kind of plays against you and it played to our advantage.”
Saint Peter’s continually battled, cutting their opponent’s lead to one with a score of 3-2, but it wasn’t enough to secure the win.
Despite losing the points, it was an afternoon that wouldn’t be forgotten by either team.
“I think what [the players] take away from the experience is, they’re one of six high school teams in the entire east coast that got to participate in [this], and I know they took a lot of pride in that,” Gilberti emphasized.
So for a short weekend, five teams from New Jersey invaded Yankee Stadium for three games where countless memories were made. Win or lose, it will always a time that the team can look back and reminisce on.
For more, head to NJ Youth Hockey Central.