MIDDLETOWN — Joakim Ryan returned to New Jersey this weekend as the former Christian Brothers Academy All-State defenseman joined fellow Atlantic District standouts and NHL prospects Joe Gambardella and Cole Bardreau at Middletown Ice World to help groom the next generation of Garden State skaters at the VINsanity Hockey Camp.
“It’s definitely a cool feeling to come home and be able to give back to these young skaters,” said Ryan, a Rumson native who helped CBA to a Non-Public State Finals appearance in 2009. “There’s no better feeling than to come home and help out some younger kids because I remember what it was like to be in their position years ago when I was their age. So for this to sort of come full-circle, it’s definitely a special feeling for me. And I really enjoy it.”
Ryan, who went on to earn a prominent role at Cornell University and earned three All-Ivy League selections as well as All-ECAC First Team honors as a senior in 2015, was selected by the San Jose Sharks at the 2012 NHL Draft. He has spent the last two seasons competing with the club’s AHL affiliate, the San Jose Barracuda.
“It’s really special to be able to take what you’ve learned along the way and bring it back to your community and share it with kids like these,” said Ryan, who has amassed 77 points on 12 goals and 65 assists for the Barracuda in 131 games. “It seems like the hockey community around this area — and New Jersey as a whole — is changing for the better and it’s because of kids like this who are willing to come out and work at young age at camps like this… It’s definitely an exciting time for hockey in New Jersey.”
Gambardella, a Staten Island native and New Jersey Rockets alum, was a top-line forward for UMass-Lowell in 2016-17, leading the River Hawks in scoring with 52 points on 18 goals and 34 assists, both of which were career-highs.
Gambardella, who was named to the All-Hockey East Second Team, became the first UMass-Lowell skater to receive the Walter Brown Award (given annually to the top American-born player in New England), was a lead instructor at the VINsanity Hockey Camp, leading drills with the grade-school skaters and fostering a loose but educational atmosphere at Middletown Ice World.
“It’s an amazing feeling to be out here with these kids today. I know, speaking for myself and the other coaches in the locker room, we really didn’t have the ability to do anything like this when we were that age,” said Gambardella, who signed a two-year entry level contract with the Edmonton Oilers, skating with their AHL affiliate, the Bakersfield Condors, last season.
“It just feels great to come back and work with these young players and see where their talent level is at and how we can help them improve,” Gambardella added. “In the short time we have with these kids, we want to teach them something that will stick with them and help them along the way while they pursue their career dreams.”
Gambardella, who recorded 129 points on 47 goals and 82 assists in 160 games with the Riverhawks, says skating at the VINsanity camp and interacting with the young skaters takes him back to his own childhood.
“Working with these guys, it really does bring you back to your younger days and it kind of makes me wish I could go back now,” he said. “But it’s awesome to see the kids develop and get better each day they’re out there with you… To see them light up and have fun while they’re out here with such high-end players, you can tell it’s a tremendous experience for them. And I’m sure they won’t forget.”
The VINsanity Camp is run by Vincent Conanan, another Staten Island native and an alumnus of the New Jersey Hitmen program. For more information on his camps head to Vinsanity Hockey Camps | Vinsanity Hockey Camp | Vinsanity Hockey