The Mite Stuff: Fun at N.J. Jamboree

N.J. Jamboree Provides Big Fun For Some Of The Game’s Smallest Players
James Hague

Nicholas Alvin may be only 7 years old, but he already has aspirations to be a goalie.

“I’m not afraid of it,” said young Nicholas, who plays for the New Jersey Colonials youth hockey team based out of Morristown, N.J. “I like going down on the ice, going after the puck, making saves. It’s a lot of fun.”

Nicholas, whose goalie stick stands taller than him, is also a big New Jersey Devils fan and idolizes a certain future Hall of Fame goalie.

“I like Marty,” Nicholas said of former Devils’ netminder Martin Brodeur, who is no longer with the club after 20 seasons. “I’m going to miss Marty.”

Mikita Bogatyrev is only 6 years old and doesn’t know he owns the same name as Chicago Blackhawk legend Stan Mikita. But the pint-sized left winger also shares a similar offensive affinity for the game.
“I score goals,” little Mikita said. “I like that. It’s not hard. I scored four goals and had two assists in my last game.”

These are just two of the 1,000 young faces that converged on the Wayne Ice Vault and the Ice Works Ice Rink recently for the Atlantic District’s Mite Jamboree, a two-day hockey festival featuring aspiring hockey players, all aged 8 and younger.

It was Maureen Thompson-Siegel’s job as the Atlantic District Coordinator for the American Development
Model to put it all together, making sure that 95 teams comprising 1,100 youngsters were in the right rink at the right time for their scheduled games. It was a task akin to herding cats, but one that was a lot more fun, and more rewarding.

Each team played 25-minute games on playing surfaces more appropriate for their ages and skill levels. Two games went on simultaneously on two different rinks from early in the morning until well after dark.

Each team played a minimum of four games. More importantly, there were no scores kept, so every single kid who laced up the skates and hit the ice was a winner.

Thompson-Siegel believes that it’s the philosophy of the ADM program that brings out the high number of aspiring hockey players.

“There are more touches of the puck and more practices,” said Thompson-Siegel, who helps run the Princeton Tigers youth hockey program. “There are fewer games. It’s just more fun for the kids. It’s really a program that is flourishing.”

The two-day event also featured a host of other activities for the youngsters, like music, an outdoor barbecue and appearances by the New Jersey Devils Alumni Association, with former players Ken Daneyko, Bruce Driver and Grant Marshall signing autographs and posing for pictures.

But this weekend was about more than just having fun. It was an opportunity for players and teams to gauge themselves against others from around the Garden State. That assessment will then allow coaches and leagues to schedule more competitive games without having to travel far and wide to find worthy opponents.

The Atlantic District's Mite Jamboree was not only a fun weekend of competition, it also allowed N.J. Mite teams to assess their skill levels so they can schedule more competitive games throughout the season.The Atlantic District's Mite Jamboree was not only a fun weekend of competition, it also allowed N.J. Mite teams to assess their skill levels so they can schedule more competitive games throughout the season.

Building off of last year’s event with 64 teams, this year’s numbers show definitive signs that the sport is certainly growing in the Garden State.

“I’m a fan of the format because the kids get to touch the puck about seven times more than they would on a full ice,” said Patrick Alvin, a coach in the Colonials program.

“Kids need to touch the puck to stay involved. If they want to stress development in the sport, this is the way to go. Every time they hit the ice, they’re learning something.”

Tim Cook, a New Jersey native, is a supervisor for the ADM. A former University of Michigan hockey player, he wants to see the sport develop and thrive, and believes that this is a great way to do so.

“Studies prove that 60 percent of Mite hockey players drop out before they get to Peewee age,” Cook said.
“This is not only for the potential of players but the retention of players. If they’re not developed the right way, it could lead to them not wanting to play. The more kids we can keep interested and playing hockey, the better.”

“I’m a fan of the format because the kids get to touch the puck about seven times more than they would on full ice.“

— Patrick Alvin, A coach with
the N.J. Colonials

Cook said that the ADM format follows the way children are taught hockey in European countries.

“That’s the European way,” said Cook, who played in Denmark and Ireland after a brief stint in the minors. “Smaller ice and practice, practice, practice. It’s not a coincidence that the better hockey players come from Europe.”

Matt Herr is another New Jersey native who managed to play after graduating from Michigan. After a seven-year pro career, Herr stayed involved in the game as a coach before signing on as an ADM regional manager.

“To walk in and see so many parents involved is truly amazing,” Herr said. “The parents are thanking us. You can see the excitement in the kids and the parents. There’s truly a buzz in that arena.”

The players were indeed having fun. Eight-year-old Will Sorrentino, who plays for the New Jersey Rockets, was quick to mention that Wayne Gretzky is his favorite all-time player, but Martin St. Louis of the New York Rangers (his favorite team) is his current top skater.

“It’s been a lot of fun being here,” he said. “I’ve met a lot of new people. I’ve been playing since kindergarten, and I love it.”

And his mother, Kia, couldn’t rave enough about the program that has given her son a place to learn the game in a fun environment.

“This is great,” she said. “This is where he wants to be. The kids all really bond, and they’re here all day. I have another son [Christian, who is 11] who plays, so we’re constantly on the go, bringing them to the rinks. But Will loves it. He’s made so many lifelong friends.”

James Hague is a freelance writer from Kearny, N.J.



Photos By Michael Carmo Photography


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