Newark, N.J. — Maybe there’s something special about goalies when it comes to Hockey in Newark. Kevin Lopez, an alumnus of the program, is in his third year at Princeton University, where he plays for the Club Hockey team. His successor, Austin Verissimo, is a beacon of the organization as well, becoming one of three recipients of the NHL/Thurgood Marshall College Fund scholarships, which were announced on Wednesday, March 25.
Verissimo is the first youth hockey player from New Jersey to win the award since its inception in 2012. The scholarship will help the 17-year-old goaltender cover the costs of college once he decides where he will attend.
Verissimo has options. He’s already been accepted at Boston College, Villanova and UCLA, but he could also choose to go the Ivy League route with Cornell. No matter where he goes, Verissimo said he plans to continue to play hockey—most likely at the club level—and he said the scholarship will help him experience college with less reasons to worry.
“It feels like all the hard work I did is paying off,” he said of the recognition.
Verissimo had learned basic skating as a child, but did not try hockey until he heard Hockey in Newark was looking for a goaltender. Lopez had served as goaltender during Verissimo’s freshman year, and as a soccer goalie, Verissimo decided he wanted to give it a shot.
“To be honest, it wasn’t that hard,” Verissimo explained, before adding, “Other than just skating backwards.” While the two sports are certainly different, Verissimo demonstrates that a net minder is a net minder, whether on grass or on ice.
Hockey in Newark co-founder Dennis Ruppe said he and co-founder Keith Veltre were ‘honored, but not surprised” to see Verissimo win the scholarship. “We’ve seen how hard he works, both on and off the ice. Off the ice, Austin has a reputation for being ‘all in’ in everything that he does.”
In the announcement, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said it was a priority to encourage youth hockey players to pursue education, “as eagerly as they pursue the puck.” While Verissimo’s role is to be the last line of defense, it’s clear he pursues everything with dedication and drive.
Just last week, Hockey in Newark players got a surprise visit from Cory Schneider and other Devils players. Schneider spoke about the value of balance, and led the kids in a drill from the bench.
The first son of immigrants from Brazil and Portugal, the Newark native aspires to study business. Verissimo explained that business was the overlap between his love of math and his fascination with finance. He also joked that by growing up with a father who’s in real estate, he always wanted a career that involved professional clothing like the suit and tie his dad wears every day.
Verissimo will receive $25,000 over the course of the next four years, split into even portions for each semester of college. Along with the other two 2015 recipients, Verissimo won the scholarship through his involvement in a program affiliated with the NHL’s Hockey is for Everyone initiative, the NHL’s official youth hockey program.
Verissimo also had to achieve a minimum GPA of 2.5, which will continue through his college education as a condition of the scholarship, and demonstrate leadership to the scholarship selection panel.
For Veltre, who was roommates with Ruppe at William Paterson University, to see one of his players selected is surreal. “What we want for these kids is a better opportunity than we had, and he’s definitely going to a better college than I did.”