When Jim Dowd
was growing up in New Jersey, local youth hockey was essentially in its infancy.
Dowd became one of the first New Jersey-trained hockey players to reach the NHL, but the Garden State has become a more popular place to visit for scouts of NHL, NCAA and CHL teams in the past two decades since Dowd went from Brick High School to Lake Superior State and eventually, the New Jersey Devils
"Back in the late '70s and early '80s, hockey was just starting to grow around here," Devils television analyst Chico Resch told NHL.com. "Rinks were just being built, and Jimmy was one of the first examples of what New Jersey-born and raised players could do. Now you're seeing it at all levels -- guys like John Carlson
, Bobby Ryan
, James van Riemsdyk
. And not just them -- there are more kids playing Division I from here, too."
Carlson was born in Massachusetts but moved to Colonia, N.J., and began his hockey career with the New Jersey Rockets of the Atlantic Youth Hockey League. Bobby Sanguinetti
, who has played a handful of NHL games for the Rangers and Hurricanes, also grew up in New Jersey and played for the Rockets.
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The AYHL, which has teams based in Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia, was started in the early 1980s, and the success of NHL teams like the Devils has played a role in helping participation at the youth levels expand. That has helped lead to more talented kids coming from the various AYHL programs, and feeds the cycle of growing and expanding the sport at all levels.
"What obviously helped was the Devils winning three Stanley Cups in the past 18 years," said Dowd, who won the Cup with New Jersey in 1995. "You see hockey growing a ton. There's more rinks, a ton more rinks. There are guys like Chico Resch, who was one of the original New Jersey Devils
, he's doing hockey camps here. Those things are huge, and that's where it all starts -- with the kids. That's why it has grown so much.
"I was fortunate enough to make it, and I guess that helped out along the way. There are so many more kids playing now, and people are looking at New Jersey for real. It is a good feeling, because I was born and raised here and take a lot of pride in that."
There are more potential NHL players coming from this area as well. The Boston College Eagles are favorites to win the NCAA title next weekend at the 2012 Frozen Four in Tampa, Fla., and their second-leading scorer is freshman Johnny Gaudreau, who played for Team Comcast of the AYHL.
New Jersey native Connor Clifton, who played for the Junior Titans is currently at the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich. Six of the 53 players invited to NTDP tryouts for next season are from the AYHL, including two players from the New Jersey Avalanche and one from the Rockets.
Resch and Dowd were two of the guests March 22 at the second annual Hockey Cares event in Hackensack, N.J. The event was held to help raise funds and awareness for Tomorrow's Children Fund
, which is committed to helping the families of children with cancer and rare blood disorders.
New Jersey Devils
general manager Lou Lamoriello was also in attendance, along with former NHL players Grant Marshall
and Brian Mullen
, and former NHL officials Paul Stewart
and Pat Dapuzzo.
"The most important reason is the cause, and the people who are involved with it," Lamoriello said. "Pat Dapuzzo, who is a good friend of mine, has had a close relationship with this whole organization and also with the Devils for years. It is just the right thing to do. It is something we feel good about.
"You're talking to some people that you'd never have a chance to meet or interact with, and we're all here for a common cause. I think it is great to see people feel good about those who do come, and most importantly it is everyone thinking the same thing -- how can we help? That is what it is all about."
As hockey continues to develop at all levels in New Jersey, there become more ways for people like Dowd and Resch to give back to the local community, and Hockey Cares has become an example of that. The event had to be moved to Stony Hill Inn in Hackensack because of the increased demand for tickets after the inaugural event in 2011.
"I've been telling people about Jersey hockey for 30 years now, and now they're starting to listen," Resch said. "It is great. If it wasn't for New Jersey hockey, I wouldn't be standing here today talking about this great cause. It is great to see for New Jersey high school hockey and travel hockey, and great to get to meet new people as well."