Ice hockey finding its niche in Maplewood and South Orange communities

Middle school team formed; parents also pushing to create program for Columbia High students

MAPLEWOOD/SOUTH ORANGE – As a certified USA Hockey coach in the Union Thunder Youth program based out of the Union Sports Arena, Eric G0non constantly listens to players from South Orange and Maplewood who are 12- and 13-years-old  discuss what private high schools they wish to attend in a few years because they want to keep playing ice hockey.

Gonon, a Maplewood resident, couldn’t help but wonder why Columbia High School doesn’t have an ice hockey program.

That’s why he has formed the Maplewood Hockey Club.

Gonon said the club is a “group of moms and dads who want to have their hockey-playing kids represent their towns and hopefully generate enough interest in the years to come to start a Columbia High School hockey club.”

Growing up in Providence, R.I., Gonon said one of his best experiences was playing for his high school ice hockey team. With the Maplewood Hockey Club, Gonon hopes to provide Maplewood and South Orange kids, including his seventh-grade son, that opportunity.

“This is about the opportunity for kids who live in South Orange and Maplewood to represent their schools on the ice, both at the middle school and at the high school levels,” Gonon said.

The club has started the South Orange Maplewood Middle School hockey team this spring. The team plays a 10-game season with 10 practices starting March 28 at Union Sports Arena, with most of the games being played on Sundays. And they will field a team in the winter 2016-17 season.

During a golf fundraiser for the Cougar Booster Club of Maplewood and South Orange three years ago, Gonon said he approached CHS athletic director Larry Busichio about the possibility of forming a hockey club at CHS. Gonon said Busichio expressed to him the difficulty of funding a hockey club.

Recently, Gonon said the idea of a co-op program with West Orange High School was pitched to Busichio. West Orange High School’s ice hockey program has been in existence for many years, but has struggled on the ice for the past few seasons.

Busichio said he brought the matter to West Orange High School athletic director Ron Bligh.

The proposal to co-op must first be approved by the boards of education from the two districts, and then approved by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, which is the state’s governing body for athletics.

Gonon and the other parents recognize that hockey is an expensive sport. However, they are willing to fund and raise money for a co-op so that their children can play hockey at the high school level.

“We as parents are used to paying for ice time,” Gonon said. “This will not cost the school district anything, because we are used to paying a fair amount of money.”

Gonon noted that there has been an increase of high school co-op hockey teams. One particular co-op has three schools – Paramus/Lyndhurst/Hackensack – which was co-oped a few years ago. The coach of that team, Denis Jelcic, is a friend of Gonon. This season, Paramus/Lyndhurst/Hackensack qualified for the state playoffs.

Another successful co-op is Verona/Glen Ridge, which won 15 games and captured the McInnis Cup title this season.

Interestingly, CHS used to have a ice hockey club decades ago. In fact, the club was formed by the father of one of the dads in the current Maplewood Hockey Club, Tom Carlin. A 1978 CHS graduate, Carlin now has a son who is in 10th grade at CHS. Carlin said he still has close relationships with his hockey buddies from CHS.

Co-oping with another school makes sense, particularly for CHS, said Carlin.

“You see it more and more, because it’s an expensive sport, so the co-ops are definitely working in a lot of towns,” Carlin said.

If anyone is interested in joining the Maplewood Hockey Club, please email info.maplewoodhockey