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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