As part of the club’s commitment to youth hockey in New Jersey, the Devils hosted a night of celebration honoring grassroots and amateur hockey in the Garden State.
On Thursday, January 18 as Taylor Hall’s game-winning goal lifted the Devils past the Washington Capitals in overtime, the team welcomed the Atlantic Amateur Hockey Association (AAHA) and the PeeWee Team heading to the 59th Annual Quebec Invitational Hockey Tournament next month while resurrecting the Dr. John J. McMullen Service to Hockey Award and honoring three new recipients: Richard Foster, Dan May and James Plunkett.
Before the game, the PeeWee Team that will represent New Jersey at les Tournoi International de Hockey Pee-Wee de Quebec, met with NHL alumni Bruce Driver and Colin White as well as representatives from JAG Physical Therapy and RJ Barnabas Health in the Devils’ locker room to talk the finer points of the greatest game on ice.
Boys and girls, age 11 and 12, were treated to an on-ice presentation during The National Anthem before the Devils took a moment to recognize Foster, May and Plunkett at the prestigious McMullen Ring of Honor.
“Validation of the growth of hockey in the state of New Jersey for so many people,” said Peter McMullen, the son of the late Dr. John who brought NHL hockey to New Jersey in 1982. “A lot of volunteers, a lot of contributors to the great sport of hockey in the state. The Devils understand that, value that and support hockey in New Jersey recognizing so many people who have been involved in the game for decades.”
James Plunkett is considered one of the great “Builders” of hockey in the Garden State. A long-time coach in the state including 1995 Stanley Cup Champion, Jim Dowd, the Bricktown resident was the first Coach-in-Chief of the AAHA and served as AAHA President for five years. A former coach, referee and official, Plunkett still serves as Director Emeritus for the AAHA, with nearly 50 years of service.
“I’m thrilled to death. In 1987, Brick combined with the New Jersey Rockets and went on to place second in the National Championships. It was amazing because we went up against a team from Buffalo who had a great player in Glenn Tarrant and it became a shootout between him and Jim Dowd,” Plunkett said. “I coached Jim at Brick and one year of midget and two years of juniors.
“New Jersey has always had the talent but everyone thinks all we are is pine cones and clam shells,” Plunkett said. “We worked hard to try and get New Jersey hockey noticed. Jim went on to a great NHL career but there were a lot of real quality kids, quality players that never made it: Jimmy Fish, Kurt Clayton, Bobby Blair… The game will continue to grow and the Devils just with the presence of NHL hockey has done so much.”
Dan May, who has coached for 40 years at every age level including an 11-year stint at Bergen Catholic High School where the Hackensack native led the Oradell team to NJSIAA titles in 2001 and 2003, has positively impacted the lives of thousands of players, quietly, and with great integrity. The current President of the N.J. Avalanche travel team, May has served as AYHL Vice President for the past 15 years and is the Devils’ former Hockey Director of the NJ Devils Youth Organization which has helped develop many players to collegiate, junior, NHL and Minor Pro levels.
“The thing that jumps out to me is the opportunity the players have now that they really didn’t have when I was growing up in Jersey playing hockey,” May said. “There was no high school hockey in Hackensack when I was kid, I played travel hockey but there still was not a lot of opportunities. But with all the rinks now, the high school programs and all the guys who went on to play at high levels are coming back to Jersey to coach. Back in the day there were only a handful of good coaches. You had to be fortunate to play for one of those guys — John Warchol, Peter Herms — but now kids have opportunity, kids are getting Division-I scholarships coming out of Jersey — Unbelievable! It certainly wasn’t that way when I was playing for the Rockets in the 70’s.”
“It all comes down to the people who invested in the game across the state, whether its the people who built the rinks as a business, the counties who invested in the facilities or simply the good hockey people, coaches, people running the programs in New Jersey,” May, who skated for the Toronto Marlies and Laval Nationals in Canada before going on to play for then-coach Barry Smith at Elmira said. “Finally, we’re getting the respect and exposure, which literally back in the day was unheard of.”
Richard “Dick” Foster served as Vice President of Rules and Regulations for the AAHA for 20 years, Director Emeritus for two decades and Commissioner of the AMHL’s Junior Programs for 25 Years. He is also considered a “Builder” of the sport and has been a benefactor to Junior Hockey from the 1980’s into the 90’s. Foster has over 50 years of continued service to hockey.
“Tonight is a wonderful tribute to youth hockey,” Foster, who was born in East Orange and raised in Glen Ridge, said. “Hockey has been an integral part in my life for years. Believe it or not, it started with my wife taking the kids skating at Branch Brook Park. I had five boys, I knew nothing about it but it became a very important part of my life. One went on to be a Division-I All-American, one went on to be a high school prep hockey coach for years, it’s just been a healthy part of our lives.
“New Jersey is not a hockey hotbed but I think the game itself draws people in, like our family,” Foster said. “You give little kids a hockey stick and a puck and ‘Wow’ it opens up a whole new world.”
In 1982, after a failed bid by an Ottawa-based ownership group with intentions to move the Colorado Rockies to Canada’s capitol fell through, Montclair native John McMullen bought the struggling franchise, moved the club to New Jersey and “christened” them the “Devils.”
In 1984, the John J. McMullen Award was established, presented by the Devils to “an individual or individuals who have supported amateur hockey throughout the state.” Previous winners include Glenn Resch, Paul McInnis, Bob Auriemma, Lou Lamoriello, Mike Reynolds, Mike Morreale, Bruce Driver and Glenn Hefferan, among others.
While McMullen passed away in 2005, his son Peter is ecstatic with the manner the Devils continue his legacy.
“Children growing up in the state, boys, girls… all of sudden we turn around and one of them is third in the league in scoring,” McMullen, referencing South Jersey native Johnny Gaudreau of the Calgary Flames, said. “I’m really pleased the Devils value and appreciate the contributions of many people behind the scenes. They’re involved in the game because they love the game and know it’s important to developing life skills and family values.”
From February 7-18, the next generation of players, the 2018 New Jersey Devils/AAHA PeeWee youth hockey team, will vie for the title at Videotron Center in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.
Written by John Christian Hageny / @JCCSPORTS
Special to HockeyClan
Main Image: From left, Peter McMullen, James Plunkett, Dick Foster and Dan May, at the McMullen Ring of Honor at Prudential Center on January 18, 2018. (Patrick Dodson/New Jersey Devils)
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