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New Jersey Devils Youth Hockey Club Celebrates a Milestone Anniversary

by Brittany Burke / New Jersey Devils

In two decades the New Jersey Youth Hockey Club has grown to over 500 participating athletes of all ages and skill levels. (Photo/New Jersey Devils Youth Hockey)

It’s been 25 years since the New Jersey Devils Youth Hockey Club made the official change to red and black and in those years, the program and the sport of youth hockey in the Garden State has grown exponentially.

A lot of that can be attributed to this club’s dedication to teaching the sport at all skill levels.

“We have everything from in-house programs all the way up to the Triple A level so we’re kind of a full service hockey organization. You can come in never having skated before and leave on your way to college [having] gone through the process of mini mites, learning to play, all the way up to the midget program which does very well nationally,” said New Jersey Youth Devils Program Director John DiNorcia.

The club has been providing services and molding players since 1988, but the organization actually dates back to the early seventies when it began as the Essex Rocket All Stars Hockey Club. During its initial 10 years the team continued to expand and in 1985 they took over the South Mountain Arena’s hockey operations.

As part of the team’s new role at the ice rink they merged with another team, the Essex County Chiefs. In 1988 the club was given permission to use the New Jersey Devils logo, name and colors which is how they’ve remained ever since.

No matter what the name of the team might have been, the goal was always the same, and that was to teach the sport of hockey.

Program Director John DiNorcia coaches some of the club's younger athletes. (Photo/NJ Devils Youth Hockey Club)

Since joining the program in 1992 and taking over as director six years later DiNorcia has seen nothing but progress for the organization. This includes its growth to more than 400 athletes playing on their travel teams and 150 additional athletes participating in other in-house leagues.

“We’ve really diversified in terms of what we do in our program, in terms of creating more opportunities for players,” said DiNorcia.

The New Jersey Devils Youth Hockey Club was the first in the state to offer a Sled Hockey Program, the New Jersey Dare Devils, which gives individuals with very limited or no use of their lower body the opportunity to get on the ice and play the sport. They also offer a program with the American Special Hockey Association for children with developmental challenges such as Down syndrome and autism.

“[Hockey is] a unique experience and once people touch it, and feel it, and see it they’re hooked for life and it’s our job to make sure every person that comes in our door, in our organization, to share that with them and make that experience as positive as possible,” said DiNorcia.

As program director, DiNorcia is seeing firsthand what kind of impact organization is having on the athletes from the time they enter the program through high school graduations and even coming back to coach.

“I think a lot of the players that are coming back to the club and coaching with us is really what makes me proudest,” said DiNorcia. “The coaches and the mentors that they’ve had in their experiences in the club [were] significant enough where they want to come back now … they’re coming back and giving up their time and kind of coming full circle and imparting the joy they had in lacing on the skates and passing that on to kids who are just starting out … it’s really enjoyable and heartwarming to see.”

Having the former players come back to help out with teams is furthering the experience that the younger athletes are having. It’s the job of the coaches to teach the players techniques and about the game, but they are also having an effect on the kids which carries over into their lives outside of the rink as well.

(Photo/NJ Devils Youth Hockey Club)

“They’re extremely engaged with the kids and the kids really take to them and you kind of see them off-ice gravitate to the younger guys … I’ll have parents tell me [the kids] go in the class and [say] the person they most admire would be a 25-year old assistant coach … that stuff is really not only exciting for the individual, but certainly us as the organization,” DiNorcia said.

The club is continuing to make an impact in the lives of players with the 25-Year Anniversary celebration. While the true anniversary was marked on September 13, the New Jersey Devils Youth Club has been preparing for it since 2012. The organization is using this milestone as a way to continue bringing hockey to families that may not be able to afford it in the form of fundraisers and scholarships.

“We’ve really tried to use those 25 years as a jump off point for fundraising and using all that money in a scholarship fund that can be used for people that apply to offset costs in terms of their son or daughter playing hockey on an as-need basis,” said DiNorcia. “ … These are hard times and hockey is certainly not a sport that is easily accessed by some so we’re trying to make it available to as many people as we can.”

It is the continuing effort of the organization to grow the love of the game in the community which has helped the club span more than two decades with no sign of slowing down.

For more, head to NJ Youth Hockey Central.

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