The Old Bridge Junior Knights are flourishing after essentially rising from the ashes of a previous program in the northern New Jersey town.
“It’s a replacement, I guess,” said Squirt A coach and board trustee Mark Schroeder, who previously coached with the Junior Knights predecessor, the Old Bridge Wings. The Wings ultimately transferred their operations to South Brunswick in the late 1990s, and the Knights moved in to fill the void in Old Bridge.
“It was a program to develop players for Old Bridge High School,” recalled Schroeder of the Junior Knights’ formative days. “In 2000-01, it started as a structural learn-to-play program, and it’s been built out of that.”
The Junior Knights, a member of the New Jersey Youth Hockey League, now field teams ranging from Mites to Midgets and operate approximately two teams annually at each level.
“We typically run with 11 teams,” Schroeder said. “This year we’ve had a good turnout from our learn-to-play [program].”
This year the number is up to 12, including two Mite teams, two Bantam squads, and three Midget clubs. Teams are predominantly offered at the A and B levels, although there is also a Mite C squad and a Midget U-16 AA group.
“We’ve had an extraordinarily large number of Mites,” added Schroeder, noting that an independent team of 22 Mite skaters was split up into two squads of 11 players each for 2012-13.
The Junior Knight rosters every year include female players, although they haven’t yet had the numbers to ice an all-girls team.
“Only a handful of programs offer it, mostly independents,” Schroeder said.
Home ice also isn’t available to the Junior Knights all year round. Old Bridge Township John Piccolo Arena is partially exposed to the elements, and so the rink is usually only open from early October through late March. It is named for one of the Old Bridge Wings original founders, who passed away in 2009. The Junior Knights later convinced township officials to dedicate the rink in his memory.
The Junior Knights still offer a learn-to-play program on Sundays that not only teaches newcomers fundamental skills such as skating and stickhandling but also explores team concepts and game play. The program consists of 11 weekly sessions that run for 75 minutes apiece, according to oldbridgejuniorknights.com.
Besides facing off against their usual Garden State opponents, the Junior Knights had the opportunity over the holidays to play host to several teams from the Great Britain Lions Hockey Club.
“It was great,” said Schroeder. “It was a really good experience.”
He explained that the Lions were actually made up of select players from a half-dozen or so youth hockey programs in England, from towns such as Sheffield, Sutton and Cardiff.
According to a document at the Junior Knights website, the Lions were invited to play teams in the New York-New Jersey area, with players ranging in age from Mites to Midgets. They were also scheduled to attend a pair of NHL games: the Toronto Maple Leafs versus the New Jersey Devils, and the Pittsburgh Penguins against the New York Islanders. The Lions youngest players were even scheduled to take the ice between periods of those professional contests. Unfortunately, with the NHL lockout still underway at the time, that didn’t occur.
Still, the Lions have gone overseas with various levels of success since 1992, and this time — including the stop in Old Bridge — was perhaps their biggest American trip in the two decades they’ve been taking them.
“It was unbelievable,” said Schroeder.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
March 27, 2017 | When USA Hockey implemented its American Development Model in 2009, one element of the nationwide age-appropriate training blueprint sparked more debate than any other: cross-ice hockey for 8U players. In the years since, an abundance of evidence, both data-driven and anecdotal, has proven the developmental advantages of cross-ice hockey.
This week, Hockey Canada announced that it too will introduce its players to the game through cross-ice play beginning in 2017-18.
“Re-sizing the playing surface to cross-ice or half-ice means more puck touches, which result in more chances to practice puck control and shooting, as well as overall more movement and motor skill-development – twisting, turning, balance, coordination, agility,” said Paul Carson, vice-president of membership development for Hockey Canada, in a release today. “Their field-of-play matches their size, and these players hone in on their skill-development in a way that larger ice surfaces just aren’t conducive to.”
The Grassroots Show on Ottawa’s TSN 1200 weighed in on the decision. Click the audio link below to hear how Canada is embracing cross-ice hockey for the coming season and beyond.
Tom Renney, president and CEO of Hockey Canada, appeared on the Grassroots Show to discuss the nationwide shift to cross-ice hockey, beginning this fall for 5- and 6-year-olds and expanding to all of Canada's Novice (8U) level in 2018-19.
“When you see 10 or 12 or 14 or 16 kids out on the ice in between periods and they’re playing 200-by-85 and 3 or 4 kids touch the puck in that whole six minutes, yet there’s people in the stands clapping and thinking it’s wonderful, I just can’t help but think about the 95 percent of the children that didn’t even touch the puck or get from one end of the rink to the other and I ask myself what are we doing when the opportunity is certainly there to have 30 kids on the ice playing cross-ice and everyone is having a much better opportunity to touch the puck, skate a shorter distance and really play. It just boggles my mind,” said Renney.
“We completely embrace, at the Initiation level and the Novice level, cross-ice hockey and we have mandated that in the Initiation program and we will mandate it across the country in Novice hockey.
“This is about the pure enjoyment of the game, and your first connection with it has to be something that’s pure fun, on a surface of play that is conducive to much more participation and joy.”
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