Nick Siffringer was in training camp two months ago preparing to begin his second season with the Lone Star Brahmas of the North American Hockey League when he received unexpected news. The 19-year-old forward from Franklin Lakes, N.J., had been dealt to the Jamestown Rebels.
“I was shocked at first because I didn’t think as a returning player that would happen, especially at the beginning of the year,” remembered Siffringer, who totaled 12 points (4-8-12) in 39 regular-season games and two points (1-1-2) in five Robertson Cup playoff contests last season. “It was tough, too, because I had gained many friendships with some of my teammates, some of the billets, our fans, our trainer and our coach, Dan Wildfong. But then I was excited because I was going to be closer to home and have an opportunity to be an older guy and a leader on a younger team with less experience.”
The perks of the trade came almost immediately for the 5-foot-11, 180-pounder. Just a month into this campaign, the Rebels visited the New Jersey Titans for a two-game set, giving the Garden State native a chance to once again play on home-state soil, which he didn’t get to do with the Brahmas.
“My dad, Dave, is from Middletown, and we talked about how funny it is that I’m playing a junior game here now,” said Siffringer, who as of Nov. 5 has four points (1-3-4) in 18 matches this season. “When he grew up, there was only a roller rink.”
Dave played roller hockey until high school, when he traded in his stick for a football. However, his passion for hockey remained, and when Nick was born he passed it on to him. Just three years later, a brand new ice skating facility — Ice Vault Arena — opened a short drive from Franklin Lakes in nearby Wayne.
Less than a year after the rink was built, Nick began skating there for the first time. Not long after his initial experience on the ice, he joined the arena’s Atoms Program, where he learned hockey under the tutelage of coaches Mike Winters, Chris Barling and Nick Beatrice. He then skated for the New Jersey Bandits until he was 13 before joining the Jersey Hitmen for four campaigns. The left-handed shooter then played one year with the North Jersey Avalanche.
In his last three seasons with the Hitmen and one campaign with the Avalanche, Siffringer also suited up for Delbarton, New Jersey’s hockey powerhouse prep school. He blossomed not only on an individual level, but also on the team front as the Green Wave captured the NJSIAA non-public state championship in his sophomore (2015-16), junior (2016-17) and senior (2017-18) seasons.
“I developed a lot in the program at Delbarton. We had some really good teams all four years, especially my sophomore year when we had a lot of seniors, such as Andrew Petrillo (Pompton Plains, N.J.) and Anthony Farinacci (Chatham, N.J.), who both were key contributors and ended up playing college hockey,” Siffringer reminisced. “And head coach Bruce Shatel stresses having a team-first mentality, so you learn how to be a good teammate. I also learned what it takes to win. Bruce had been doing it for a while, and you learn how to win on the big stage when it counts, in state finals and Gordon Cup finals.”
The moment Siffringer stepped foot at Delbarton he was on a mission, and that was to carry on the school’s glorious tradition of winning and excellence, which has seen standouts such as George Parros and Kenny Agostino (Morristown, N.J.) later play in the National Hockey League.
“The people there always want the hockey program to win,” Siffringer asserted. “That’s what’s expected. And you want to live up to what those guys before you have done as far as winning and being good people on and off the ice.”
In Siffringer’s senior season, the Green Wave were actually considered underdogs. Regardless, they still reached the final, where they defeated the favorite, Don Bosco, 4-2.
“That was the highlight of my Delbarton career, and probably the highlight of my hockey career so far,” Siffringer said. “Franklin Lakes is a lot closer to Don Bosco than Delbarton, and after playing for the Hitmen, most of my best friends in the world — we have a close group of about nine guys — all went to Don Bosco, except for Kenny Burgess (Franklin Lakes, N.J.), who was our goalie at Delbarton. I remember after we scored the empty netter in the state final and went up by two, there was this enormous feeling of relief and excitement. Everyone thought that was Don Bosco’s year to finally beat us and win their first state title, but we shut that down. That was the highest on life I’ve ever been.”
After concluding his high school career as a champion, Siffringer left the comforts of New Jersey for the first time to play for the Brahmas. He learned right away that living away from his immediate family and with a billet family meant he had to shoulder a lot more responsibility away from the rink.
Explained Siffringer: “My billets took really good care of me, and they are there to provide a house, food and any guidance they can, but they aren’t your parents. They aren’t going to police you as much. Living away from home, you have to police yourself a little more, make sure you’re getting yourself up and doing all the right things, such as going to bed early. It wasn’t hard for me.”
On the contrary, adjusting to playing in the NAHL was much more difficult.
“The on-ice transition from U-18 and high school to junior, especially in the NAHL and a division like the South, where it’s very physical, is huge,” Siffringer continued. “The speed is also different; there’s much less time and space. Everyone is bigger and older.”
Siffringer also had to learn about the many finer points of the ice game that weren’t taught in his previous stops.
“Coach Wildfong is a really good coach, and he stresses details, so the game gets dissected more. It’s not so simple anymore,” Siffringer stated. “You learn to do some of the smaller things, which make a big difference when it comes to the result of the game.”
In his one season with Lone Star, Siffringer felt he became a player who’s much harder to play against, and also one who makes smarter and quicker decisions.
“I was always a strong kid who liked to play physical, but Coach taught us the importance of having a good stick when you’re hitting guys so that you could hopefully cause a turnover, and hitting guys away, such as going through a defenseman who’s shooting from the point,” he said. “And in the NAHL, you have way less time to make decisions, not just in the offensive zone, but also off the breakout and in the neutral zone, where you have to make little plays to gain entry. That was another big thing I learned how to do that’s helped me in my second year.”
Siffringer is hoping his continued hard work and development pays off in two major ways this season. First, he wants to do his part to help the Rebels capture the Robertson Cup. Meanwhile, he’s also chasing a personal goal, and that’s to earn a college commitment.
“I’ve talked to a few schools, but nothing is set in stone yet,” Siffringer said. “At this point, I’m trying to improve every day. If I keep getting better, then I’m going to end up at a place that I love.”
And that would be splendid news for Siffringer.