The fourth annual MikeyStrong Tournament saw hundreds of athletes gather at the Barnabas Hockey House, the official practice facility of the New Jersey Devils, over Father’s Day weekend.
Capping off the second of back-to-back weekends, the state-wide youth hockey tournament, named in honor of Mike Nichols, a former player in the New Jersey Raiders youth hockey organization who suffered a debilitating neck injury when he fractured his C-5 vertebrae in a high school ice hockey game at Skylands Ice World in Stockholm on Jan. 4, 2014, held games at three different locations around the state before crowning seven new champions in the name of “MikeyStrong” — a mission to find a cure for spinal cord injuries by funding innovative research and improving the quality of life for individuals living with paralysis.
Since that devastating injury, Nichols has received an overwhelming amount of support from every area of the hockey world ranging from youth hockey to the high school level, all the way up the ladder to the NHL and the New Jersey Devils.
Nichols was present during championship Sunday in Newark and gave a very powerful and emotional message to all the players, parents and fans in attendance prior to the 18AA championship between the Raiders and the Rink Rats.
“This is why hockey is the greatest game played in the world,” Nichols said. “With the help of hockey players like everyone here today we are able to support a great cause. I am very grateful for everyone who came out. It means everything.”
Standing by Nichols was former Devils’ defenseman Bryce Salvador.
“When presented with the opportunity to work with Mikey Nichols and the MikeyStrong Tournament, it’s something you just can’t say no,” Salvador, who played in 447 games over the course of seven seasons with the Devils, said. “It’s such a great cause here in New Jersey. The chance to bring awareness and raise some money for this cause is an amazing thing to be associated with.”
Salvador, along with the Devils and XHockey, is a huge supporter of the MikeyStrong initiative and talked about how inspired he has been by the former Monroe player.
“Mikey is the ultimate example of perseverance,” Salvador said. “The fact that he always shows up with a smile on his face, and his willingness to help out whenever he can, it makes you reflect on yourself and realize that some of the challenges you have in your life and whatever is going on in your life is not so bad. It’s a testament to his character and his drive and that’s exactly why, when the opportunity came to work with Mikey, it was a no-brainer for me.”
Over the past three years, $38,000 dollars have been raised by the Mikey Strong Tournament. Before the conclusion of this year’s tournament, in excess of $10,000 has been raised, putting the goal of $50,000 within sight.
Oktay Armagan, the tournament’s director who also coached Nichols while coming up with the New Jersey Raiders, originally started the fundraiser as the “Restore the Shore Tournament” after Hurricane Sandy. After Nichols’ injury, Armagan saw another opportunity to help and shifted his focus to the MikeyStrong Tournament to aid his former player in his time of need.
The tournament started with 28 teams back in 2014 before jumping to 54 teams in 2015. Last season, an incredible 72 teams participated before expanding to crown 11 new champions this year. The Raiders were one of four champions crowned at the MikeyStrong Tournament’s Opening Weekend in Howell on June 11, before capturing five more titles — Bantam AA, 16AA, 16AAA, 18AA and Girls — at the Barnabas Hockey House Sunday night.
“It’s a really special thing being a part of this tournament every year,” Armagan said. “He played for me and was an unbelievable player and I loved coaching him. His attitude is really something for kids to follow and model after.”
Raiders Knock Off Rink Rats 2-1 for Bantam AA Title
Jack McKenna scored two goals in the first period and Joey Colecchia stood on his head in between the pipes to lead the New Jersey Raiders over the Rink Rats, 2-1, to stake claim to the Bantam AA Championship.
The Rink Rats outshot the Raiders 18-7 in the first period and 43-17 in the game, but it was the outstanding play in net from Colecchia that proved to be the difference.
Colecchia made a plethora of saves early in the first to keep the game scoreless, finishing with 42 in the game, which allowed the Raiders’ offense to get to work.
McKenna scored his first goal of the game at the 7:05 mark of the opening period and it took him just 2:20 later to score what proved to be the eventual game-winner.
“It was a lot of fun playing in this tournament. This was a really tough game today, but we came out strong and played hard,” Colecchia said. “We kept our heads up the whole time and never gave up. I saw the puck really well today and kept my eye on it the whole time and my team played great in front of me. In the beginning, playing with a 2-0 lead took pressure off of me. I felt comfortable and calm as the game went on. I love playing for such a great cause like this and helping Mikey out and raise money.”
Armagan had nothing but praise for his team and the effort put forth by Colecchia.
“It’s a really special tournament and the Rink Rats are a great team. They really took it to us. Joey bailed us out so many times,” Armagan said. “He played phenomenal. His play gave us momentum. He made big save after big save and that carried us on the other end of the ice.”
Raiders Blank Team Militia 2-0 for 16AA Title
After two scoreless periods, Sam Younger struck for the game’s first goal 22 seconds into the third and the Raiders never looked back en route to the 16AA title with a 2-0 over Team Militia.
Younger scored off of a pass from Dominick Foglia and it was Foglia who recorded his second point of the game on the eventual game-winning goal five minutes later.
It was defense that dominated the game for the Raiders, allowing just four total shots to Team Militia, all in the first period. Goaltender Clay Simensen answered every time when he was called upon to record the shutout.
Matt Corella stopped four of the five shots he faced in net for Militia.
Vipers 8, Raiders 3 — 16 A Championships
Raiders 2, Militia 0 — 16AA Championships
Raiders II 4, Raiders 3 — Girls Championships
Militia 4, Coda 3 (Shootout) — Bantam A Championship
Raiders 2, Rink Rats 1 — Bantam AA Championships
Raiders 4, Benders 1 — 18 AA Championship
Raiders 8, Aviators 1 — 16 AA Championship
Written by Chris Costa/Hockey Clan
Main Image: The New Jersey Raiders, Bantam AA Tournament champions. (Chris Costa/HockeyClan)