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Junior Knights carry on hockey tradition in Old Bridge, N.J.

03/08/2013, 1:00pm MST
By Roman J. Uschak

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.

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Called up to The Show

09/26/2016, 10:45am MDT
By Kelly Erickson

Three USA Hockey officials earn the chance to officiate in the NHL for the first time this season

For the majority of young hockey players, their dream is to skate in the National Hockey League. They want to be the next Zach Parise, Patrick Kane, Ryan Suter — the list goes on. This season, starting in NHL training camps, three young Americans will make their dream a reality, with one caveat — instead of playing, they’ll be officiating.

Ryan Daisy, Furman South and Cameron Voss, three USA Hockey officials, were each recently offered NHL contracts and will attend their first NHL training camps this fall.

“It’s been a dream come true, really,” South said. “I’ve dreamt of being in the NHL my whole life. I grew up playing hockey from a young age and have been a hockey fan my whole life. Ever since I learned to skate it was always a dream of mine to be in the NHL. For most of my life I have dreamt of being there as a player, but once I was done playing, my dream was to make it as an official. And I made it. I can’t wait to have my first NHL game.”

Daisy echoed the sentiment, noting that making it to the NHL level as an official has been a goal of his for awhile.

“It feels awesome,” Daisy said. “I’m sure there will be a lot of emotions going on in my first game, the first time I touch the ice in the NHL with the NHL crest on my sweater that I’ve been dreaming about for years. I’m definitely looking forward to it.”

It’s a dream made reality for all three, and the ultimate payoff for many years of hard work and sacrifice.

“It’s an accumulation of all the sacrifices my family has made for me, all the supervisors and friends along the way that have helped me,” Voss said. “It wasn’t just me, it was a collection of people that pushed me and made me believe and work hard. It’s a pretty overwhelming feeling being at this point. I’m just glad all the sacrifices that we’ve made have paid off. I’m very blessed and humbled by the whole experience.”

Voss, South and Daisy were drawn to officiating from different paths, but once on it, they both climbed through the ranks and took advantage of the USA Hockey officiating development initiatives, including summer camps and the USA Hockey Officiating Program for South and Daisy to hone their skills.

Voss was the first of the three to don the zebra stripes, becoming an official at age 12, working alongside his father. It was his way to help pay for his hockey gear and get extra ice time. After closing his collegiate career at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, pursuing a career as a ref became a reality. He attended an officiating summer camp and saw all the opportunities available to work in higher-level hockey, and before long, he was working his way through them, spending time at the youth, high school, junior, NCAA Division I and professional levels in the American League.

“My eyes lit up really wide and I was just eager to start the process,” Voss said.

“USA Hockey gave me lots of opportunities to learn and hone my craft. The people involved in USA Hockey, they sacrificed a lot of time … they helped me out tremendously, especially at the grassroots level. They let me learn and grow and even let me fail and learn from those experiences. USA Hockey helped me from when I first started when I was 12 to when I got the call (from the NHL) in July.”

South played NCAA hockey at Robert Morris University. When he graduated in 2012 at age 24, he simply wanted to find a way to stay involved in the sport about which he was so passionate. He tried coaching, he instructed at camps and then he got a chance to ref a game and he loved it. He’s officiated everywhere from high school up, spending last season in the American Hockey League.

“It kind of came naturally to me and I realized it was something I wanted to pursue,” South said. “A couple of years later, it seems to have worked out.”

Daisy was drawn to officiating because it was a way to be in the game, to skate on the ice. His dream of becoming an official firmly solidified when he joined the USA Hockey Officiating Development Program during his senior year of college. With some early success, he was offered a contract to work in the United States Hockey League full-time, fueling his aspirations.

“(USA Hockey) will do everything in their power to help you achieve your dreams, no matter what level of hockey it is,” Daisy said.

From his Level 1 seminar to summer camps to his job in the USHL, Daisy has felt extreme support from every manager and mentor along the way, noting they all wanted to help him be a better official.

“You’re learning from the best,” Daisy said. “You’re learning from guys that are either currently in the NHL, have been in the NHL, officials that have worked international hockey and college hockey. They’re out there helping you become better.”

South also credits the USA Hockey Officiating Development Program as a factor in his success, noting Scott Zelkin, the Officiating Development Program manager, and the program itself gave him every opportunity to succeed as an official. To make his dreams come true.

“I can’t say enough about USA Hockey and the Officiating Development Program,” South said. “I wouldn’t have had this chance with the NHL if it wasn’t for those guys, that’s for sure.”

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