Everybody’s favorite part of the high school hockey season is tournament time. By which, I mean the state tournaments that take place in late February and early March.
But tournament time happens in December, too, with holiday tournaments taking place throughout the state. Although they start this weekend with the 68th annual Lawrenceville Tournament, that’s for boarding schools. The regular kids start playing tournament games Sunday night, and they come in all shapes and sizes.
So if I’m going to do this – reflect on 20 years of covering high school ice hockey in New Jersey, while looking at the 2015-16 season as landmark year No. 20 – I should probably start at the beginning. How did I, someone who has never played a game of ice hockey in my life, someone who had never even been on skates, wind up so consumed by this little corner of the sport?
Well, the credit (or blame, depending on your perspective) has to start with my parents, probably with my mother. You see, when I was 6 or 7, I got the bright idea that I wanted to go to a New Jersey Devils game. Continue reading JY20: How I got hooked on high school hockey…
Monday marked the first day of practice for high school ice hockey teams in my home state of New Jersey, which means, in 2015-16, that it marks the beginning of my 20th year covering those teams. The milestone is bittersweet, because it will probably be my last year covering New Jersey high school hockey for Hockey Night in Boston and maybe even the last year of my website, NJHockey.org, which I have run since I was a freshman in college in 2001-02.
Increasing professional and family responsibilities mean less free time for the ‘hobby’ role that hockey takes, and while I am thrilled about everything going on in my life, it will definitely be strange for me if and when I am absent from the New Jersey hockey scene.
Over the years, I have been asked countless times – by coaches, parents, friends, roommates – WHY I keep track of every game played by boys’ varsity ice hockey teams in New Jersey. Why I stay up almost every night for four months inputting scores into three separate spreadsheets. Why this continued when I lived in Texas, Pennsylvania, and Louisiana and I saw very few games in person. Why I’ve continued to track and monitor a fairly average group of players and teams (no offense, guys!) in a sport that does not rank among New Jersey’s or the country’s most significant.
“I can’t imagine not doing it,” has probably been my most frequent response, and it’s true. If I stopped running my website, then decided in January that I wanted to know who was in first place in the Mennen Division, or how East Side was faring this season, how would I find that information? Would it be accurate? How often would it be updated? Would it reflect game results the way I would list them?
But there’s much more to it than that. For the last 20 years, despite never having played or coached the sport, I have been welcomed and accepted into a unique community of New Jersey hockey people. They rely on me and talk the game with me, and we all enjoy that. But they also root for me and support me and ask how they can help, and there are many I consider friends. Walking into a New Jersey hockey rink — most of them, anyway — feels like coming home. It is a community I cherish and love and will never forget.
Why do I love it so much? Maybe this 20th year of coverage, in which I intend to increase my published writing at blog.njhockey.org and continue to provide Twitter updates via @NJ_Hockey, will be my way of trying to explain and document why and how New Jersey high school ice hockey has been an integral part of my life every winter since before I even reached high school.
Thanks for reading, and enjoy the season!