Newark, NJ — For over three decades, Gary Hess coached and mentored youth hockey players across New York and New Jersey.
On Saturday, August 11, 2018, Hess unexpectedly passed away, taken far too soon from the hockey community that loved and embraced him. He was 55.
Hess, who tutored thousands of players along the way, including the New Jersey Devils’ Kyle Palmieri as an avid youth hockey player growing up in Montvale, was Hockey Director at Sport-O-Rama in Monsey, N.Y. where he managed the Ramapo Saints youth hockey organization. He was also assistant coach for the St. Joseph Green Knights high school hockey team from 2013-’18.
For his efforts, both on and off the ice, the Devils posthumously honored Hess at Prudential Center in Newark on Sunday as the recipient of the 2019 Dr. John J. McMullen Award, presented by the organization to “an individual or individuals who have supported amateur hockey throughout the state.”
“It is with great sadness that we share the news of the passing coach Gary Hess,” St. Joseph head coach Larry Mahurter said. “Coach Hess served as an assistant for the Green Knights Hockey program for the past five seasons. Our players know how much they meant to him, how proud he was to coach each of them and how much he loved being at the rink with them. God Bless.”
“Growing up in New Jersey, it’s a huge honor to represent the Devils,” said Palmieri. “There were many people who had an impact along the way and Gary was someone who helped me early on. I am happy that we’re recognizing him as this year’s Dr. McMullen Award winner. It’s a tremendous honor for him and his family.”
More often than not, Hess could be found at the rink from 7am to 7pm. A jovial giant of a man with a smile as broad and a beard to match, Hess was known to dress up as Santa Claus at Christmas, on occasion, to the delight of everyone. He left a lasting impression with whomever he met, especially the kids he worked with day-in and day-out in New York.
“We just want to thank everyone — it’s such an incredible honor — we’re so happy and proud to receive this award,” Gary’s daughter, Rebecca Hess, said. “It’s been incredible. We feel so welcome and I know Gary would have loved this and really appreciated it.
“His legacy has never been made more clear to me after his passing,” Rebecca said. “People coming from everyone to share their stories. We have a huge box of letters from people all over that loved him, how much of an impact he had on their lives. It’s been incredible to see everyone come forward and share their stories. It makes me really proud to be his daughter.”
On Dec. 18, a banner-raising ceremony was held at Sport-O-Rama in Hess’ honor. This season, a green and white Hess patch adorns every one of the Knights’ jerseys.
“It was really emotional, really incredible to see everyone there,” Rebecca said fighting back the tears. “It was incredible — and I know I’ve used that word a couple times — but it was — it was profound. Thank to you to the Devils for all the attention. He deserved it. He was an incredible man.”
Established in 1984, previous McMullen Award Winners include Glenn Resch, Paul McInnis, Bob Auriemma, Lou Lamoriello, Mike Reynolds, Mike Morreale, Bruce Driver and Glenn Hefferan, among others.
“The John J. McMullen Award is given out annually to someone who has committed themselves to the sport of ice hockey in the state of New Jersey,” Peter McMullen, the son of the late Dr. John who brought NHL hockey to New Jersey in 1982, said. “Ideally, it’s someone who’s made great a contribution to young people, someone who’s provided opportunities for young people to learn values and have fun. That’s something Mr. Hess certainly was known for whether it was behind the scenes sharpening skates, setting up cones or waiting for everyone to come out of the locker room.
“He loved hockey and was very involved for the right reasons,” Peter said. “To convey his passion for the game, teaching structure and life lessons that we all know are part of hockey… we’re honored.”
On “Hockey Day in America,” Sunday, Feb. 17 as the Devils’ skated to a 4-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres, the organization joined USA Hockey in celebrating “Youth Hockey Night,” presented by RWJ Barnabas. In honor of its 12th anniversary, the Devils hosted several youth hockey events promoting the NHL’s “Hockey is For Everyone” initiative recognizing local youth hockey players, coaches, officials, rink partners and fans.
Special events included Junior Officials of the Game and Junior Team Captains to coincide with the team’s “All Girls Learn to Play” program launching this spring in partnership with the NWHL’s Metro Riveters. The team also acknowledged Jersey Sports Zone’s Top-5 Goal-Scorers for January.
“I’ve been involved with the USA Hockey program as a player and a coach throughout my career and like to take the opportunity to give back,” Devils’ Head Coach John Hynes said. “It is great to see our organization supporting the program’s efforts throughout Hockey Week Across America. The entire organization knows how important it is to build fans from an early age and to be a part of the grassroots efforts in our local youth hockey communities.”
Related: Honoring Gary Hess — GoFund Me Page
Written by John Christian Hageny / @JCCSPORTS
Special to HockeyClan
Main Image: The New Jersey Devils Honor The Hess Family at Prudential Center on Feb. 17, 2019 in Newark. The late Gary Hess was a fixture in the New York and New Jersey hockey community for over 30 years. (Photo courtesy of New Jersey Devils)
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