TOMS RIVER, NJ — Amazing moments happen in the beautiful game of hockey all the time. When fans of Central Regional and Lacey Township entered Winding River Skating Center on Monday night, you could sense something special was going on.
It was Central Regional’s “Senior Night,” but ask any one of the young men and women in the Eagles’ maroon and gold and they’ll all say the same thing: Tonight was Eric’s night, too.
The scoreboard flashed a 15-7 victory for Central, but Eric Czaplinski was the biggest winner of the evening, netting a hat trick in his Lacey debut.
Czaplinski has been with the Lacey Lions’ program since its inception before his freshman year, but until tonight he had been strictly the team’s manager and, of course, their biggest fan.
“He loves hockey — he’s the biggest Devils fan in the world,” Lacey head coach Chris DiMicco said. “He will tell you he loves to score and we just told him to take his shot.”
Czaplinski, who was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, is a member of the Brick Stars, a program for children and young adults with developmental disabilities.
“His brother Justin skates in the hockey club so he’s been around the rink,” Alex DePalma, founder of the Brick Stars program, said. “Three years ago we taught him how to skate, and now he has become a big part of our program.”
Leading the team out onto the ice with the Lacey faithful cheering him was a surreal moment for anyone witnessing the events unfolding in front of them.
But this was only the beginning for the senior.
With 5:31 remaining in the first period, Czaplinski won the draw and skated down the middle of the ice.
A rocket right between the goalie’s legs — that’s what the crowd wanted — and Eric delivered.
“From great moments are born great opportunities,” DePalma said, quoting the legendary Herb Brooks from Team USA’s 1980 “Miracle on Ice.”
“Hopefully we can get some exposure from this, the word will get out and other kids will want to come out and try hockey.”
It was a special moment for Czaplinski and the Lacey team. When the puck crossed the line, Lacey players rushed its newest member in the program record books. The Central Regional players followed, because Eric was an honorary teammate and friend to them tonight as well.
“We are all beyond grateful for the coaching staff at Central Regional. They are a class act to let this happen tonight and they have been more than helpful and gracious since I became the coach here,” DiMicco said. “They were the ones who actually came up with the idea for the hat trick, so my hats off to them.”
“I was excited. My teammates were excited. My family was excited. It was awesome,” Czaplinski said.
A natural goal-scorer, Czaplinski was hunting the net all night, and when he was tripped up early in the third period, a penalty shot was awarded. The goalie knew exactly where he liked to shoot, but that wasn’t enough to stop Eric.
“My favorite thing about hockey is skating, taking shots and scoring goals,” Czaplinski said with the biggest smile etched across his face.”
With the game winding down, Czaplinski cut through the defense like butter — making it look easy — and capped off the hat trick with his patented five-hole shot.
“Yeah. That’s my go-to shot,” Czaplinski said.
First-career goal? Check.
Second career goal? Check.
Third career goal and a hat trick? Check.
Bragging rights over the team on the bus ride home? Don’t even think about it.
“No. I’m a great teammate. I can’t do that to them,” Czaplinski said.
This humbling attitude irradiates from Eric. Even to those who don’t understand the camaraderie of hockey can see what he means to his teammates — and what they mean to him.
Off the ice, his peers will most likely tell you he is enjoying every moment of life and the joy just flows around the room.
“The boys just love him,” DiMicco said. “The boys always are with him; taking him to lunch or playing NHL or just being around him. They love him and he loves them right back.”
Eric is the life of the locker room; the heartbeat of the team. Standing on the bench for his first goal, anyone could tell they were playing this game for him. And they all view him as more than just a teammate. To all of them, Eric is going to be family forever.
“I tell the boys all the time that there are bigger things than hockey,” DiMicco said. “Tonight was one of them. As an educator and as a coach, my job is to make sure these boys become better men before they leave high school.”
Brick Stars player and Lacey ice hockey manager Eric Czaplinski scores his first varsity goal against Central Regional and clears both benches in celebration @LaceyIceHockey @AlexJDePalma2 pic.twitter.com/LlBz9koTgb
— Larissa Forese (@lforeseos) February 4, 2020
The motto “Hockey is for Everyone” speaks volumes when you witness such powerful events such as these and DePalma is an advocate for all individuals on the ice, regardless of circumstance.
“Special hockey, hearing-impaired, blind hockey, amputee sled hockey and warrior hockey,” he said. “Anytime I can get anyone on the ice and skate that’s what I’m going to do.”
For anyone who’s tried the game, Eric embodies the determination needed to survive it. The first challenge of just putting on skates turns off many new players. But when you look at Eric, you notice a young man eager to take the ice despite the challenges he faces.
“These kids get to see how fortunate he is,” DePalma said. “Have you ever seen anyone smile as much as Eric? We are the ones that need to start smiling some more.
Eric surely left Winding River with a smile on his face. And this one is going to take a while to come off… and it actually never might.
Written by Casey Krish / @CaseyKrish
Special to HockeyClan
1-0 CR Joey Klutkoski (Danny Klutkoski, Trevor Coltenback) 13:35-1st
2-0 CR Alex Krish (Dom Wiatrowski) 11:54-1st
3-0 CR Trevor Coltenback (Joey Klutkoski, Danny Klutkoski) 11:02-1st
4-0 CR Will Maguire (Mark Anthony Competello) 8:55-1st
5-0 CR Danny Klutkoski (Will Maguire) 6:05-1st
5-1 LT Payton Wolfarth (Donald Kirk) 6:05-1st PPG
5-2 LT Cooper McDonald (Ryan Gerhauser) 5:11-1st
5-3 LT Eric Czaplinski (Payton Wolfarth) 3:51-1st
6-3 CR Trevor Coltenback (Danny Klutkoski, Joey Klutkoski) 14:37-2nd
7-3 CR Mark Anthony Competello (Nicholas Babich) 14:15-2nd
8-3 CR Trevor Coltenback (Thomas O’Leary) 7:51-2nd
9-3 CR Nicholas Bilinski (Nicholas Babich) 5:23-2nd
10-3 CR Trevor Coltenback (Dom Wiatrowski, Mark Anthony Competello) 2:48-2nd
11-3 CR Jhan Drozd (Trevor Coltenback) 11:51-3rd
12-3 CR Megan Lenox (Joey Klutkoski) 11:10-3rd
12-4 LT Eric Czaplinski 11:01-3rd
13-4 CR Danny Klutkoski (Thomas O’Leary) 6:26-3rd
13-5 LT Josh Giersi (Dominick Vecchio) 4:12-3rd
14-5 CR Brady Steller (Danny Klutkoski) 3:53-3rd
14-6 LT Eric Czaplinski 2:20-3rd
15-6 CR Jhan Drozd 41.4-3rd
15-7: LT Josh Giersi (John Frosbe) :0.1-3rd
Shots: 64-19, Central Regional; Robertazzi, CR, 7 saves; Hoagland, CR, 5 saves; Turrin, LT, 49 saves
— Lacey Athletics (@Lacey_Athletics) February 4, 2020
HockeyClan continues to upgrade its apps to benefit their growing hockey community.
Want to write about hockey? Join the HockeyClan community! While you are here visiting Rate Rinks! You can rate every rink you have ever been to based on the most important criteria. Interested in doing your own Player’s Blog? Send your hockey story to us at firstname.lastname@example.org