How big has youth hockey become in Oswego, N.Y.?
Until 1964, when the Oswego Minor Hockey Association was formed, the only organized hockey in the central New York burg was the State University of New York at Oswego, a.k.a. Oswego State, men’s team.
OMHA will be celebrating its 50th anniversary during the 2014-15 season.
Two United States Olympians have played major roles in the OMHA: 1972 Olympian Pete Sears has served as an OMHA coach and 2006 Olympian Erik Cole is an OMHA alumnus.
Arguably the OMHA’s most prominent coach has been Ed Gosek who, since 2003, has been the successful coach at Oswego State and still serves on OMHA’s Board of Directors.
During his tenure as an OMHA coach, Gosek’s teams captured five New York state championships, and in 2009, he received the Walter Yaciuk Award, presented annually by USA Hockey’s Coaching Education Program to “the individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the program during many years of volunteer service.”
Gosek offered sage advice for boys who are currently playing in the association.
“Enjoy the game,” he said. “Play for the love of the game because you really enjoy it. The bottom line is the kids I had on those teams were very successful. Even now, you look back at the friendships and camaraderie you develop through playing together and they last you a lifetime.
“Don’t have any regrets. Play the game and play it the right way. Don’t cheat the game."
This season, the OMHA will host four major tournaments: the 19th annual Power Play Invitational; the 25th annual John “Maggie” Mulkerin Invitational; the 28th annual Oswego Mite Invitational; and the 31st annual Best Western Plus Invitational.
Initially, OMHA only had one rink in the city. Now, it has three — the Crisafulli Memorial Skating Rink, which is located at historic Fort Ontario, the Cullinan Skating Rink and the Oswego Campus Center Ice Arena.
Whereas OMHA initially only had one travel team, it now has travel teams at the mite, squirt, peewee, bantam and midget levels, plus house teams for squirts, peewees and bantams.
Cole, a 12-year NHL veteran who currently plays for the Dallas Stars, has been a major OMHA benefactor, especially for the Mite Invitational, because he donated American Development Model cross-ice boards.
“Eric called and asked ‘What else do you need?’” said OMHA ACE Coordinator Kevin Ahern. “He bought us two cross-ice boards. We throw them on a flatbed truck and ship them from rink to rink.
“Eric holds a three-on-three tournament and a golf tournament in the summer that raises money. He’s one of those genuine guys who’s always giving back. Without Eric, we would be struggling and our fees would be higher.”
Cole, who played a season in the USHL with Des Moines before suiting up at Clarkson University, also helped rebuild the local library where his mother brought him when he was a youngster.
“He’s everything that you want and expect as a role model and a leader as a pro hockey player that your community could ask for,” said Ahern.
The importance of youth hockey to the community is high on Gosek’s list of priorities.
“A lot of good people in the community make it happen,” he said. “They’re doing it for the right reasons. We don’t have a lot of kids that come in from other programs or who leave for big, glamorous AAA programs.
“It’s a hockey town with less than 20,000 people with boys’ and girls’ high school hockey teams. People support it 100 percent. The people are here for the kids to make sure they have a good experience and develop as players.”
The Power Play Invitational has developed into one of the more popular tournaments in the state. A total of 28 teams from Long Island to Buffalo in New York plus teams from New Jersey, Michigan and Canada will participate.
“Initially there were 24 teams,” Ahern said. “But it got to the point where it was a 12-team local tournament. The founders decided they wanted to push it to where it was and grew it from there. I advertised nationally and had this season’s field filled by Aug. 31.”
Besides the actual tournament, a skills competition is held at the Campus Center and a benefit coaches’ game is played while boys are participating in the skills competition. The benefit’s proceeds will go to Nazareth coach George Roll (a former Oswego coach), whose wife, Paula, passed away after a courageous battle with cancer.
“I’ve never been to a tournament that’s had a coaches’ game and will raise money for a good cause,” Ahern said.
There’s also a backstory to the Mulkerin Tournament.
“‘Maggie was a long-time Oswego State blue-line guy,” Ahern said. “He was one of those guys who always was at the rinks lending a hand. This tournament is in honor of Maggie. This community is a hockey community.”
Due in large part to Cole’s donation of the cross-ice boards, the ADM has become a major component of the OMHA.
“The benefits are overwhelming,” Ahern said. “We’ve grown the numbers and gotten to the point where we’re keeping our kids at home much more. We’re working with a good progression. It’s developmentally appropriate. We have a good plan so they can go on to Squirts. But, most of all, we’re trying to grow the game.”
The same could be said of boys who “graduated” from OMHA.
“Kids I coached are coaching and giving back to the program,” Gosek said. “Give back to the program that helped you mature. It’s important that people are willing to give back to the kids.
“Oswego is a blue-collar town and people are committed to doing the right thing.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.