They said it couldn’t be done. That hockey in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and the Atlantic District on the eastern seaboard couldn’t be corraled, that the talent pool wasn’t deep enough, that most of the good players would be long gone anyway.
“When we first started, everyone said no one could do it. I’m not saying I had time to do it but we asked ourselves, “How do we create? How do we make it possible?” Lew Mongelluzzo said with a rich, city slick accent. “I was really removed from the youth level at that point. Then we said, “Maybe we could do it, maybe we could make it work. You with me?”
Today, over 700 players applied for 120 positions among six teams a decade later in what has become a bookend staple to the hockey season and a highly-anticipated showcase putting the east coast’s top players on display as the Liberty Bell Games set to celebrate its 10th anniversary June 1-3 at The Armory in Red Bank, N.J.
“Lew and I had collaborated in the past on a campaign nothing related to hockey,” Event Director Anne Yannarella said. “As our business friendship grew we talked about what we could do to set this in motion. We developed a plan and it was a really good blueprint.”
The games, which have gone on tour traveling from Hatfield to The Skate Zone in Voorhees, N.J. to Middletown Ice World before coming to The Armory two years ago, is a testament to the hard work and dedication of Mongelluzzo, President and CEO, Yannarella working behind the scenes as Vice President, and Bill Underwood as Director of Scouting.
“To be honest, in 2009 no one in youth hockey knew who we were. We were actually on the phone calling parents a month before the event asking them to sign up their sons,” Yannarella said with a smile. “In May, we had about half of the 90 players we needed but we filled every spot!”
The tournament, sanctioned by USA Hockey which includes 15, 16 and 17-year olds, originally began with five teams and 90 players with 18 players on each squad. In 2015, a sixth team and an additional 18 players were added upping to total to 108 as Mongeluzzo and Underwood looked to expand south. This year, the Liberty Bell Games added two additional forwards to each team to bring the total to 120 players.
“The hardest part was taking the top 15-year old who could play against the top 17-year old — we made it work,” Mongelluzzo, a proud Philadelphia native and current scout for the New Jersey Devils with prior ties to the Ottawa Senators and Quebec Nordiques, said. “Then the following year, we had an abundance of players that found out about it and signed up. By 2014, Long Island, New York City kids, Washington kids, kids from Virginia said, “We want to get into this.”
The LBG Staff expanded as well to include Tony Piscotta, Mike Sheehan, Randy Walker, Geoffrey Beauparlant, Josh Romano and Frank Reago, who along with Underwood, scout Westchester County in New York south through the state of Virginia.
Nearly 150 players who have participated in the showcase have gone on to the next level with 17 players tendered by NHL contracts, including Evan Barratt, Ross Colton, Brandon Crawley, Anthony DeAngelo, Nick Ebert, Johnny Gaudreau, Kevin Labanc, Ryan Lohin, Eamon McAdam, J.J. Piccinich, Cayden Primeau, John Stevens, Nolan Stevens, Anthony Stolarz, Dwyer Tschantz, Troy Vance and Chandler Yakimowicz.
2018 LIBERTY BELL GAMES TEAM ROSTERS
Independence (White) Walt Whitman (Sky) Ben Franklin (Royal)
Coach: Keith Dupee Coach: Vincent Sorriento Coach: Robert Ferraris
Lawrenceville School Millbrook School Trinity-Pawling School
|5||D||BARKUME, Jamie||9||D||CRESPO, Jarod||20||D||BOYD, Jack|
|10||D||MCDOWELL, Aidan||20||D||DITTENHAFER, Logan||3||D||CARFAGNA, Damien|
|20||D||MEINECKE, Mark||12||D||HAMLETT, Chip||21||D||DJURASEVIC, Frank|
|15||D||PELTZ, Gregory||16||D||MORRISSEY, Bauer||10||D||FOGLIA, Dominic|
|17||D||RUBIN, Michael||21||D||PARKER, David||15||D||POSMA, David|
|18||D||SPETZ, Steven||4||D||SCIABARRA, Joseph||17||D||SCHNEIDER, Chad|
|6||F||CLARK, Brendan||5||F||AMBROSE, Jeremy||2||F||ARGENTINA, Matthew|
|7||F||CONNORS, Kenny||6||F||BARRASSO, Robert||6||F||AVEZOV, Brandon|
|2||F||CONWAY, Declan||7||F||BENCHICH, Darion||4||F||CHEN, David|
|3||F||DZHANIYEV, Daniyal||2||F||BERGEMAN, Cam||7||F||CONROD, Ben|
|8||F||FORD, Jack||3||F||CALAFIORE, Anthony||8||F||D’ANGELO, Alexander|
|9||F||FRASSETTO, William||8||F||COLON, Danny||9||F||DE BOER, Matt|
|11||F||MESSINA, Paul||10||F||CRODDICK, Eugene||5||F||FRANZONI, Matt|
|12||F||MOELLER, Alexander||14||F||DOMBROWSKI, Gabe||11||F||FRANZONI, Michael|
|4||F||NESTERENKO, Nikita||11||F||EBERLING, Andrew||12||F||JOHNSTON, Kevin|
|14||F||PELTZ, Zachary||15||F||MCLINSKEY, Liam||14||F||POSMA, Michael|
|16||F||RIGGINS, John||17||F||ROSSI, Hunter||16||F||PUSKAR, Jake|
|21||F||TAIT, Connor||18||F||SISON, Jayden||18||F||ZOCCO, Nicholas|
|1||G||BASSE, Dominic||1||G||PETKUNAS, Frankie||1||G||BYLIN, Gustave|
|30||G||RUDOLF, Aidan||30||G||RINGHEISER, Dylan||30||G||HAINS, Owen|
William Penn (Red) Freedom (Gray) Constitution (Gold)
Coach: Brooks McQuade Coach: Kurt Colling Coach: Will Leedy
Tilton School Salisbury School Salisbury School
|6||D||CREASY, Jacob||3||D||BERNARDO, Nicholas||20||D||DEMPSEY, Thomas|
|8||D||DEGAETANI, Nicholas||11||D||HEROUX, Logan||11||D||GETZ, Lachlan|
|9||D||GERACI, Jake||12||D||JAPCHEN, Gregory||12||D||HALLARD, John|
|10||D||LAYDEN, Dennis||21||D||KIRCHER, Jack||16||D||POULIANAS, Peter|
|11||D||MANCINI, Andrew||14||D||OVINGTON, Liam||4||D||UFKO, Ryan|
|21||D||MROCZKA, Jack||15||D||RUSSELL, Bryson||19||D||VLASICH, Sean|
|5||F||CAMERON, Michael||2||F||ALBERT, Shane||5||F||BOCZAR, Matthew|
|7||F||DEANGELO, Dylan||5||F||ANDREYCHUK, David||6||F||BOUCHER, Tyler|
|20||F||KORMANIK, William||6||F||CARROLL, Christopher||7||F||CASSELLA, Mitchell|
|4||F||LAFERRIERE, Alex||7||F||CECCARINI, Nicholas||8||F||CORONATO, Matt|
|3||F||MAURICE, Anthony||8||F||DAY, Luke||9||F||EVALDI, Eddie|
|12||F||MONAHAN, James||9||F||DE SANTIS, Nicholas||10||F||GELATT, John|
|14||F||MORGAN, Owen||20||F||DONATO, Will||14||F||KYRKOSTAS, Stephen|
|15||F||PRYYMAK, Tom||10||F||FAIRFAX, Michael||15||F||MITCHELL, John|
|16||F||PUGH, Gavin||16||F||SPITZNAGEL, Gregory||2||F||OLENGINSKI, Jan|
|17||F||SIKURA, Jes||4||F||STEELE, Luke||17||F||ROCCO, Mike|
|18||F||TSIMERMAN, Arthur||17||F||TRAINOR, Aidan||3||F||SEDLAK, Connor|
|2||F||WILMER, Jeremy||18||F||YOUNG, Michael||18||F||VEREMYEV, Gleb|
|1||G||O’GWEN, Liam||1||G||CARROLL, Cam||1||G||MCCABE, Aidan|
|30||G||SCHOER, Matthew||30||G||FRANCHI, Ty||30||G||SEMPTIMPHELTER, TJ|
Mongeluzzo says the showcase has become as much about the players as the scouts in attendance which include representation from the NHL, OHL, USHL, NAHL, EHL, USPHL and NCAA.
“It’s like scouting 101,” Mongeluzzo, who also spent time behind the bench with R.P.I, Colgate and Princeton, said with a laugh. “We had 85 coaches and scouts last year from every level. It’s a tough time. When you’re scouting in this business you need to be prepared — getting to the rink early — even though you might be going to see three or four guys, other players pop up.”
Don Bosco Prep coach Greg Toskos, whose teams have skated for the NJSIAA high school state final each of the past two seasons, has five players with ties to his Bergen County school skating in the games including Damien Carfagna, Jake Geraci, Liam McLinskey, Michael Rubin and Connor Sedlak.
“Always excited to see when the rosters for the Liberty Bell Games are announced,” Toskos said. “It’s been a great showcase for not only our Bosco kids but so many high school players in New Jersey. The past few years I’ve received phone calls from Division-I and III coaches asking about our Bosco guys right after the weekend.
“The tournament clearly reinforces the great talent we have coming out of the state.”
To those lucky enough to be rostered, the LBG sets the standard helping to cover expenses and provide accommodations thanks in large part to its sponsors the New Jersey Devils and Wendy’s as well as contributions from the Atlantic Youth Hockey League and Under Armour.
“First and foremost it’s all about the kids,” Yannarella added. “Every kid will go home with an Under Armour backpack stuffed with items, water bottles, commemorative pucks, tape, laces… they get to keep their jersey, their socks… we don’t have to do it but we want to do it because it’s always about the kids — that’s our priority.”
“We just don’t feel it’s necessary to hit the parent over the head with another 30 bucks at the door,” Mongeluzzo said. “It’s all what’s right about youth hockey — we just don’t believe in charging a parent to see their own kid — it’s already an expensive game. We try to do everything right and have people that really believe in us. We have a heck of a show. If we continue in this manner, it’s only going to get better and better.”
The 2018 Liberty Bell Games begin Friday night, June 1st, at 5 p.m. with a ceremonial puck drop slated for 10 a.m. on Saturday, June 2. The championships are set for Sunday, June 3, beginning at 8 a.m. and concluding with the championship bout at 12 p.m. Guest appearances by Colin White, Ken Daneyko, John Hynes and the N.J. Devil mascot are scheduled among other guests.
Written by John Christian Hageny / @JCCSPORTS
Special to HockeyClan
Main Image: 2017 Liberty Bell Games Team Champion, Walt Whitman. (Photo courtesy of Liberty Bell Games)
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