by Melissa Begley
A shy little guy in the ice rink coaxed off the sidelines by a caring coach is how it all began for Kevin Murphy, now a senior at Hackettstown High School.
Pamela Murphy, team manager of a new middle school level ice- hockey team, reveals her son’s humble beginnings when discussing the genesis of the team. Murphy recalls how her two sons began playing hockey in an area that appeared to be dominated by soccer, football, lacrosse, basketball, and various other sports that are a bit more accessible.
Murphy’s oldest son, Kevin, was at Chill Out in Hackettstown which was a no frills establishment that collapsed when a Zamboni went through the ice. Coach John Sorg noticed him on the side of the rink and coaxed him onto the ice by saying, “We really could use another player out here. You would really be doing us a favor.” Quickly, ice hockey found its way into the hearts of the entire Murphy family.
Murphy’s younger son, Liam, soon followed suit and both boys were hooked. They loved hockey and they got involved on various recreational and travel teams, including New Jersey Freeze, throughout the years. At one point Murphy realized her sons would not be able to represent their high school because there was not a hockey team in Hackettstown. Therefore she came to the decision that she had to do something about it. Rather than sit and complain, she started organizing and mobilizing.
She poked around and found that Mt. Olive and Hopatcong had a co-op for hockey. Due to low enrollment, those two towns had been playing together at the high school level for some time. She thought that maybe the co-op could extend it radius just a little more.
Murphy got in touch with the hockey coach at Mt. Olive High School, Mike Behre, as well as the athletic director, David Fellini, and they discussed this possibility. As a result, the three schools now compete together and the team is thriving. Murphy states, “None of this could’ve happened without Coach Behre and Coach Fellini.”
However, Murphy didn’t stop there; she continued to look to the future. Her son, Liam, is currently in the eighth grade at Great Meadows Middle School and Murphy was interested in the possibility of giving these future high school teammates a chance to play together sooner. Again Murphy started talking to people and seeing what she could do to get a middle school team started.
The purpose of creating a middle school team that participates in the Aspen Ice Middle School League in the Highlands Division is to prepare for the long term. The goal is to introduce the boys to one another as middle schoolers to make the transition to the high school team a bit smoother.
This middle school team is comprised of boys from New Jersey Freeze in Randolph, New Jersey Colonials and the Long Valley Wolfpack, as well as some players from Roxbury and other nearby towns. This team does not come out of Mt. Olive Middle School. Without this league, high school would be the first time they got together. Now the boys get a chance to meet, get to know each other, learn each other’s moves by the time high school rolls around.
The games are set to be held on Sundays and there is a roster of 20. The team has three wins under its belt so far and the season is set to run until Nov. 18. All the games are considered home games and are played in Montville, Randolph, Rockaway, Long Valley and Roxbury at Aspen Ice.
Behre continues to be an integral part of the puzzle as well but credits the parents with the idea of creating the team. Behre notes that he was a fan of this idea because the numbers are low at the high school with just 14 or 15 players currently. Having experienced a drought in interest for the last few years Behre is excited to see some new players rising up the ranks. Identifying the kids coming down the pike and getting them together at a younger age has helped renew interest in the sport overall.
Behre notes that he enjoys working with the four fathers who were willing to step up and volunteer their time to work with the players. Working closely with the parent coaches to discuss the offenses that will be run at the high school level, Behre is able to lend a hand and has also been able to attend two of the three games and witnessed the victories that have taken place. He sees good things in the future for Mt. Olive ice hockey and is excited to see the talent and the numbers headed his way.
The head coach of the middle school team is Tom Gargiulo, who is also a parent on the team. He is assisted by Frank Korszoloski, Pat McGarry and Anthony Luciani. Gargiulo states that “Pam should get most of the credit for this [team]. She’s the rock star of this whole operation. She’s the engine.” Gargiulo explains that without Murphy, it would have been nearly impossible to make this team happen.
After playing at Rutgers, Gargiulo coached there for a time. He has since coached at the recreational and travel levels for the Hunterton Bears, the Bridgewater Bears, West Orange High School and had just started his 24th year of coaching. Gargiulo explains that he enjoys this program for various reasons and works closely with the high school coach to make sure the players will be prepared to compete at the next level. The coaches discuss game strategies and offenses that will be implemented in high school.
Gargiulo talks about how sports have changed throughout the years. He says, “When we were younger, there wasn’t the specialization that there is now. There is so much competition between rec and travel programs. So many young kids are sticking to just one sport at a young age. It used to be that sports didn’t get serious until high school.”
Gargiulo is also a fan of players being coached by different people. Different coaches, he explained, value various skills and can bring out different abilities in different kids.
The boys earned their third victory of the season and are hoping to continue the streak. They are growing as players, having a blast, and getting out of their comfort zone by playing with their future high school teammates.