Local Resident to Play With Stars in Challenger Winter Classic on Feb. 4

Jan 31, 2018
Courtesy of: Brick Stars Hockey Little Egg Harbor's Michael Koval, who will be playing with the Brick Stars ice hockey team in the Challenger Winter Classic on Feb. 4.

When Little Egg Harbor resident Michael Koval steps onto the ice of Avon Pond Sunday, Feb. 4, he and the Brick Stars Challenger hockey team will have one primary goal and a secondary one. The first is to have an enjoyable experience. The second is to win the game.

In Avon, starting at noon, the Stars will take on the USA Warriors in their seventh annual Challenger Winter Classic, and any hockey fans from throughout Ocean and Monmouth counties showing up to support the teams should expect a treat.

The Stars program embraces children and young adults with physical, cognitive or other challenges, including autism and Down syndrome, which can make it difficult to join skating or hockey programs. The program serves towns throughout Monmouth and Ocean counties and has a travel team. Koval has played on the Stars’ travel team for several years and will compete in Sunday’s Classic.

USA Warriors Ice Hockey, based in Laurel, Md., is comprised of wounded or disabled military veterans. In addition to physical activity, the program provides a healing sense of camaraderie and purpose that is often missing after military service.

The Challenger Winter Classic is a calendar highlight for both teams.

“Our kids ask at the first practice, ‘When are we playing the Warriors?’” said Alex DePalma, founder and director of the Brick Stars program.

“I have to make sure that’s the first game I have booked,” said Dina Crepaldi, the team’s manager. “The players love the excitement of the day, playing outdoors. They understand what the Warriors have done for them.”

The event includes a military honor guard, participation by former New Jersey Devils and the team mascot, refreshments and a silent auction to include signed sports memorabilia. Admission is a free-will donation to the Brick Stars program, a portion of which will help the Brick Stars travel team attend its first USA Hockey Disabled Hockey Festival in Illinois.

“Everyone leaves this game with a big smile,” DePalma said. “It’s a great chance to tell veterans how much you appreciate their sacrifice, and to cheer on some very determined Brick Stars players.”

David Biggy

biggy@thesandpaper.net

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