Juniors Journal: Hitmen helping New Jersey rebuild
by Shawn Hutcheon/Contributor
For so many of us, hockey is our refuge, our “getaway” activity. For others, it is a passion and it needs to be. Hockey needs to be a passion if you play it and plan on making it your vehicle for acquiring a college education and pursuing the professional ranks. The junior-aged player eats, sleeps and dreams of achieving such lofty aspirations. Nothing will get in his way.
Sometimes, however, the world beyond the rink puts major obstacles in their way. Reality reared its ugly head when Hurricane Sandy hit the northeastern United States, particularly in New Jersey where the damage is unimaginable.
Between the Eastern Junior Hockey League and the Atlantic Junior Hockey League, there are three junior teams that were in Sandy’s path. Jersey Hitmen coach Toby Harris, a native of Kingston, Mass., described the destruction as devastating.
“It’s so sad, people lost everything,” the Boston College alum said. “I’ve been here for two years and I’ve never seen anything like it. Complete towns are under water or just washed away. I mean, on TV, we saw the damage that was done to New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina but when you see it in person, you can’t really believe it.”
The Hitmen roster features players from plenty of locations outside the Garden State. A few hail from places such as Nebraska, Ohio and other areas of the country that are not usually in the path of such powerful storms. Coach Harris describes how his players have reacted to Hurricane Sandy.
“Well, pretty much all of our U16s and U18s are from New Jersey and many of them lost their houses,” the coach said. “They’ve had to move in with other families. A lot of our (EJHL) guys still don’t have electricity or running water in their homes or billet’s homes, but we’ve banded together and are helping others. Our players are helping people clean out their homes. They, along with my wife, have been volunteering at a soup kitchen, making sure people get enough to eat.
“We have the players’ families who don’t live in New Jersey helping any way they can,” the coach continued. “The father of Tanner Creel, who is from Illinois and one of our goaltenders, bought and sent a huge generator for Tanner’s billet family. The support we’re receiving from all around the country has been incredible. Of course, I’ve heard from the other EJHL teams and they all want to help. We appreciate everything people are doing for us.”
The organization is also planning a benefit hockey game to raise funds for the cleanup and rebuilding efforts.
“We’re going to play a Hockey Fights Sandy game in the near future,” said Harris. “We just need to finalize the date and opponent and we’ll announce all the details. We want to do everything we can for the people down here.”
The Hitmen were able to find practice ice and have played twice since the storm ravaged their surroundings.
“Last week, we were able to practice at Ford Hall Arena on the campus of Montclair State University, although some of the players couldn’t practice and we played our series against the Springfield Jr. Pics, “ Harris said. “We lost the first game. For obvious reasons, our heads just weren’t in the game but we won the next day so that was something we could feel good about.”
The players and staff of the Jersey Hitmen are continuing to help each other cope with Hurricane Sandy, but more importantly, they are helping their fellow human beings. People have lost everything they have ever owned and the Hitmen have been instrumental in assisting with the cleanup and provision of the essentials that most of us take for granted on a daily basis.
Asked how will the people of New Jersey move on emotionally and put their lives back together and Harris said, “I moved down from Boston two years ago and I quickly learned that the people here have heart and are genuinely good people. They’re determined to rebuild their communities and it will happen. I love it here.”
1) Jersey Hitmen (12-4-0-0-0) - Hurricane Sandy forced the Hitmen to endure a very difficult week. In the midst of helping Jersey Shore residents sift through the devastation, Coach Toby Harris’ team split a two game series with the Springfield Jr. Pics (3-2 loss, 7-3 win). A pending Nor’easter snow storm force the postponement of Wednesday’s tilt against the Connecticut Oilers but the Hitmen, who continue to lead the Eastern Junior Hockey League’s South division, are hoping to travel to Raynham, Massachusetts to face off against the Bay State Breakers in a two game series. Bay State is in second place in the South division and trails Jersey by one point.
2) New York Bobcats (10-3-0-0) - The Bobcats did not compete last week. They are holding on to third place in the Atlantic Junior Hockey League and are two points out of first place. This week, New York will take the bus to northern New Hampshire for a two game series with the surging Laconia Leafs.
3) Rochester Jr. Stars (7-5-0-3-0) - The Jr. Stars had a slow start to the season but have worked their way into third place in the EJHL’s North division. This weekend could prove to be pivotal as Rochester is just one point ahead of the Boston Bandits and trail the Valley Jr. Warriors by three points. Last week, the Stars split a series with the Islanders Hockey Club (4-2 win, 6-1 loss) and will try to gain ground on the Warriors when they face off against Valley Friday night at Valley. Saturday, the Jr. Stars will return to Valley’s home rink for a morning tilt against the South Shore Kings before taking on New York Apple Core in the evening.
4) New York Apple Core (6-9-0-0-0) - Last week, Apple Core, who has won three of it’s last five EJHL games, split its two game series (4-1 loss, 5-2 win) against the Portland Jr. Pirates. This week, Apple Core will set out to put two wins together against the Rochester Jr. Stars and the Islanders Hockey Stars, respectively. Both games will be played in Haverhill, Massachusetts.
5) New Jersey Titans (6-8-0-0) - Last week, the Titans, who occupy eighth place in the AJHL, did not play. This week, NJT will face off against the Philadelphia Little Flyers on Friday evening and will meet the first place Boston Jr. Rangers in Tewksbury, Massachusetts on Saturday.
6) New Jersey Rockets (3-9-2-0) - The Rockets who are in eleventh place in the AJHL, trail tenth place Laconia by two points and have a one point lead on last place Washington. New Jersey did not play last weekend but will spend this weekend in New Hampshire and Massachusetts taking on the Northern Cyclones on Saturday and the Jr. Rangers on Sunday.