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Special Hockey Day at The Rock

by Gordy Stillman / New Jersey Devils
The Brick Stars and Woodbridge Warriors raise their sticks after an enjoyable afternoon on the New Jersey Devils' ice. The skaters were led in the activity by Devils Alumnus Bruce Driver, who, along with Ken Daneyko and Grant Marshall, helped lead the activities. Photo by Patrick Dodson

The New Jersey Devils hosted five teams from around the Garden State on Friday, April 15, for hour-long clinics on the Prudential Center ice. Those five teams – Brick Stars, Mercer Bull Dogs, Woodbridge Warriors, New Jersey Dare Devils and the New Jersey Avalanche – help serve New Jersey’s special needs community and brought more than 100 youth participants to Devils Special Hockey Day.

With the assistance of NJ Devil and Devils Alumni Grant Marshall, Ken Daneyko and Bruce Driver, the teams worked on drills and hockey techniques while soaking in the experience of being on the ice at the epicenter of New Jersey Hockey. Alex DePalma, founder and director of the Brick Stars, described the day as a thrill for the participants and their parents.

“They follow the game, they love the game, and moments like this, they get very excited about,” DePalma said. DePalma also discussed the value of the event in spreading awareness of the resources available within the special hockey family. “A lot of the community hears hockey, and they go, ‘gee, how’s my child going to do hockey?’ Then they come and find out how easy it is for [the children] once they start.”

One such skater is Donald Petersen, the 19-year-old Brick Stars’ captain who last year was featured in the Devils’ monthly youth hockey spotlight. Petersen said it felt amazing to be at the home of the Devils. “It’s just a good feeling to get the chance to do this.” Petersen’s father, John, said he never thought he’d see his son skating on the Devils’ ice.

Jack Switzer, an accountant from Little Falls, spent the evening watching his 9-year-old son, Jonas, skate with the Dare Devils and Devils alumni, having fun with the sport. “We’re so happy that he has this opportunity, and it’s great for his confidence,” Switzer said. “It’s so nice to see our kid so happy.”

After his participation in the clinic, Jonas excitedly recounted the fun he had on the ice, saying he scored many goals. “I shot some pucks with a former skater (Ken Daneyko) today. I am pretty much famous now.”

The elder Switzer first learned about the Dare Devils in passing from a coworker. On Jonas’ first day, Jack recalled bringing him to the rink and Jonas getting on the ice within 10 minutes. “He’s loved it ever since.”

Alumni Grant Marshall and Ken Daneyko speak to the New Jersey Avalanche and New Jersey Dare Devils at the start of their hour-long clinic. As the first two teams of the day, the Dare Devils and Avalanche got the extra surprise of meeting Devils forward Kyle Palmieri. Photo by Patrick Dodson

“It’s great to see the kids get to skate where the big Devils skate,” Daneyko said. “Any time you see kids with some disabilities, doing the things they do on the ice, it’s something that the parents appreciate because the kids have found a passion.”

As a special surprise, the skaters were treated to an appearance by Devils forward Kyle Palmieri, who greeted the players and watched some of the skaters practice. Palmieri, whose cousin skates with the Dare Devils, drew a connection in how he benefitted from the Devils’ support as a youth hockey player in New Jersey, and how he’s now helping the team’s continued mission to grow the state’s youth hockey communities. “They were really excited,” Palmieri said of his surprise visit. “It was nice to see the smiles on their faces.”

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