Tuesday, March 21, 2023

(NJ Avalanche) Not all fairytales have a happy ending. Many times, as hard as we root for the main character or the hometown team, the result is sometimes less than what is expected. However, many times the journey to the finish is just as great of an accomplishment as the end result. This is no doubt the best way to explain the NJYHL (New Jersey Youth Hockey League) 16 and under team that finished their season last week as the runners up in the state finals.

The NJ Avalanche 16uAA team is a unique entity. It is an ice hockey team made up of the highest caliber players from around the tri-state area with one unique common bond—they are all Jewish. In fact, there are no tryouts held and no scouting done. The players are Yeshiva League athletes from SAR, Frisch, Ramaz, Ohr Yisroel and Ramapo High. To be part of this group, one must simply love to play the game of hockey without giving up the values of being an Orthodox Jew. The league, as well as the organization, go out of their way to make sure these players do not have to sacrifice their beliefs in order to compete. At first thought, this may seem like a nice idea but would be a hard sell in terms of preseason rankings. After all, the AA level in the NJYHL boasts the highest level of play in the area, with teams in this division being formed after rigorous tryouts. Many organizations field three or four teams with the AA team being the elite and most talented.

At the start of the season the Avalanche team was challenged and offered a spot in this elite AA division. Many thought it was simply out of the question as our players are a makeshift team based on their religion rather than their talent. Most thought that our kids were simply too small and would not be able to handle the size and speed. Some were hesitant to even sign up if we played in the AA division. After many meetings both with the coaches and the parents, it was decided to give this a chance with no expectations at all.

The season started off as expected—rough. The Avalanche players were not used to the size, speed and skills of their opponents at this level. Many of the teams in this division practice throughout the summer while our players are away on teen tours or in sleepaway camp. After the first few games it was evident that each and every game was going to be a battle and the prospect of making the postseason was almost impossible. However, as they have for so many seasons in the past, these players simply figured it out. Once they got used to the speed and size, the natural talent of these players started shifting into gear. The games were certainly a challenge but as the season progressed it was apparent that these players could compete.

By the end of the season, the Avalanche finished with an impressive 11-7 record, which earned them a spot in the playoffs. They had changed the minds of their biggest skeptics. Not only was this team a playoff contender, but there was an aura of respect for these players from all involved. The playoffs showcase some of the top hockey talent on the east coast. Held at Richard Codey Arena in West Orange, it attracts many well connected scouts as well as an abundance of spectators who want to watch ice hockey at its highest level. Not even the most optimistic parents or coach could have predicted that this team would be in the hunt. After two preliminary games, it was proven that the Avalanche team was the real deal. Although significantly smaller than their competition, combined with having to play close to the end of Shabbos, the players played their hearts out. After defeating teams in heroic fashion they earned a spot in the finals playing for a state championship. They would have to play the Woodbridge Wolfpack which had many returning players from their previous year’s team who had won the National championship. While the game was close to start, the Woodbridge team simply was too good. After a hard fought game, the Avalanche found themselves on the losing end of the scoreboard for the first time all weekend. While the loss was initially disappointing, all involved realized what a tremendous performance these players put on all season long.

Coach Brian Menteverdi has been coaching youth hockey for more than 25 years. He said, “I’ve never seen a group of players work so hard towards their goal. While their performance was impressive and admirable, what I and the rest of the hockey world are even more impressed with is their commitment to their Jewish beliefs above and beyond anything else. I have learned a tremendous amount from these players with what it means to never sacrifice your beliefs despite the temptations.”

Charles Crispino has also coached youth, high school and college hockey for many years. As the Woodbridge coach the first thing he did was come over to the coaches of the Avalanche and the players to congratulate them. “This team never gave up. We didn’t take them seriously at first because of their size but that changed fast. The respect me and my players have for these kids is tremendous. They should be extremely proud of their accomplishments and we look forward to playing them again soon.”

Special hakarat hatov goes out to the NJ Avalanche organization which continues to provide teams that can schedule around religious commitments. Also to the NJYHL, which, once again, was able to work with our team to make sure none of the games interfered with Shabbat or Yom Tov. For more information on this program please reach out to Rick Pomerantz at [email protected]

Team members: Captains: Asher Rudman (SAR), Bennett Burgida (SAR), David Rosen (Frisch).

Players: Aiden Petak (Ohr Yisroel), Alex Pomerantz (Frisch), Alex Ottensoser (Ramaz), Bennett Lissauer (Frisch), David Kahn (SAR), Elijah Zackai (Frisch), Harrison Agus (Ramaz), Henry Wolf (SAR), Hudson Pollack (Ramapo), Jared Helwani (Frisch), Josh Levy (SAR), Max Levy (Frisch), Nathan Wolk (Ramapo) and Noah Sosland, (Frisch).

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