Come Hell Or High Water

Organizers Of USA Hockey National Championship Tournament Are Working Overtime To Create Memorable Event

The nor’easter that dumped a record amount of rain on parts of the northeast may have passed, but images on the nightly news continue to show towns under water as citizens begin the long process of drying out and assessing the damage.

One such town, Wayne, N.J., has caught the eye of hockey families around the country as they pack their bags and prepare for the biggest weekend of the hockey season.

That’s because not far from the Ice Vault Arena, site of the USA Hockey Tier II 14 & Under National Championships, the Passaic River continues to swell, fed by heavy rains and melting snow.

“Once it gets on [the news] and you see Wayne, N.J., obviously people are thinking that the entire city is underwater,” said Jim Hunt, USA Hockey Regional Manager for the American Development Model.

By a stroke of luck, the floodwaters that have been responsible for more than 458,000 power outages across the Garden State have left the rink and the surrounding area unharmed.

“We’ve been lucky,” said Mariann Reiss, general manager of the Ice Vault Ice Arena. “All the host hotels seem to be in good shape.”

The only hitch would be if the rains returned, forcing road closures between the Ice Vault and the tournament’s secondary site, Floyd Hall Arena on the campus of Montclair State University, 12 miles away.

“Even though we’re giving out directions to everyone, they’re going to have to take alternate routes,” Reiss said, “And [with visitors] not knowing this area, that’s the nightmare I hope doesn’t happen.”

Weather aside, things seem to be going smoothly for the tournament coordinators, who are rolling up their sleeves and tackling an event of this magnitude for the first time.

“We’ve done some small events … but nothing on this scale,” Reiss said.

On April 7, the Ice Vault and Floyd Hall will open their doors to players with 48 youth teams from across the country, many of whom will be competing at their first National Championship event.

With the expansion of the Tier II tournaments, which will provide teams from all 50 states with the opportunity to skate for a National title, organizers are working overtime to provide every player and his family with an experience fitting of the preeminent youth hockey tournament in the country.

“It’s very exciting,” said Joan Mariconda, USA Hockey director for the Atlantic District.  “A lot of people who have never been to Nationals are just so thrilled to be able to do it.”

Reiss and the New Jersey Youth Hockey Club are planning to make sure all the participants walks away with memories that will last a lifetime.

“We’re going to have kind of a carnival midway atmosphere out front and in the parking area,” Hunt said. “So there’s going to be games and rides and refreshments and music … during the course of the event all in tents and outside."

In order to conduct the five-day tournament on four sheets of ice, Reiss has enlisted the services of small army of volunteers.

Everyone from the families of youth hockey players to players from the Junior B New Jersey Hitmen team as well as the New Jersey Devils Fan Club have signed up to donate their time during the championship.

“We’ve been quite lucky. We have over 100 volunteers that are helping us with this tournament,” Reiss said. “You cannot do this tournament without the generosity and the efforts and the dedication of volunteers."

Mariconda, who will oversee that USA Hockey rules and regulations are followed at the event, is receiving some help as well.

“Usually, you would have [one] director responsible for [the 14 & Under] level,” Mariconda said. “But because we’re adding so many new teams … we have two other directors [John Tobin and Mike Bonish] who are coming into Wayne to help out … and make sure that the USA Hockey rules are applied.”

With less than a week before the championships begin, Reiss is confident that she and her team of volunteers will give visiting players and families an experience to remember.

“We’re all tired and excited,” Reiss said. “We’ve all been working long hours and long days and nights, but we’re really looking forward to getting this off the ground and doing a good job.”

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