Merger of Former Area Youth Hockey Leagues Creates Lawrence Nassau Hockey Association
FACE OFF: Two 11- and 12-year-old PeeWee ice hockey players face off against each other during a practice at the Lisa McGraw Ice Rink at Princeton Day School. They are now part of the newly merged Lawrence Nassau Hockey Association.
By Jean Stratton
Team play, skill instruction, sportsmanship, and competition are all part of the newly formed Lawrence Nassau Hockey Association.
Established in the spring of 2017, the association is a merger of the former Lawrence Hockey Association and Nassau Hockey Association, both youth ice hockey programs with a long history in the area.
“The idea was that it was two hockey programs that recognized we could do more good and accomplish more together than individually,” explains co-director Ryan Loxam.
Previously, the two hockey leagues were a mainstay in the area for both boys and girls learning to play ice hockey and compete in tournaments.
The Lawrence Flames of the Lawrence Hockey Association provided hockey opportunities for players of all levels for more than 50 years. Based at the Loucks Ice Rink at The Lawrenceville School, the team competed with hockey teams in New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania. In the past year, 230 players participated in 14 different Flames teams. Many players go on to play high school and college hockey.
The Nassau Hockey League was founded more than 45 years ago by Sully Clark, and has been a very popular organization, explains Loxam.
“From its inception, the program skated out of the Lisa McGraw Rink at Princeton Day School, where we continue to have a mutually beneficial relationship today. While Nassau developed a competitive travel hockey program over the years, the main focus on a relaxed environment where local boys and girls could learn to skate, play the game of hockey, and have a good time has never changed.
“Nassau was started as and remains a nonprofit organization, fueled by volunteers with a passion for hockey. Throughout the merger, the focus on keeping Nassau’s In-House program fun and accessible was of key importance to the new organization as they continue to provide a ‘one-stop shop’ for Mercer County hockey players of all skill levels.”
Three hundred players, aged 4 to 16, participate in the different sections and teams based on age. In addition, two overall programs include the travel teams and the In-House program. The former competes with other teams in New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania, while the In-House program is focused more on intramural play, with less emphasis on travel.
“We are also developing a limited travel program with a fewer overall number of games and shorter travel distances,” points out Loxam. “This is a middle option between the In-House program and travel teams.”
Practice and Games
The travel teams include Mites, boys and girls ages 4 to 7; Squirts, 8 to 10-year-olds; PeeWees, 10 to 12; Bantams, 13 to 15; and Midgets, 16-plus.
Players joining the In-House program are in three levels: juniors, aged 4 to 7; seniors, 7 to 11; and varsity, 12 to 14.
Practice and games take place at Princeton Day School’s Lisa McGraw Rink and The Lawrenceville School’s Loucks Ice Rink.
In addition, there is a Learn to Skate program for all ages, notes co-director Kathleen Preziosis. “This has 10 sessions, and we partner with the Princeton Skating Club. The first thing is that they learn to skate, at whatever age. I love seeing the little kids out on the ice.
“I was a hockey mom. My sons played, and my husband played too. It teaches the players coordination, good sportsmanship, and it is such good exercise.”
Adds Ryan Loxam, who grew up in Canada, and played hockey from an early age: “Hockey has many benefits. it teaches the importance of teamwork, develops camaraderie and coordination. Also, you can play your whole life, and it’s a great way to make friends. If you move, just go to the rink, and you’ll meet people there. Then you’ll have them as friends.”
The new association is a nonprofit organization, and includes 17 coaches for the travel team, 14 for the In-House program, and four for the girls’ team.
“Cara Morey, head coach of the Princeton University women’s hockey team, is the director of our girls’ hockey team,” says Preziosis. “Mike Rich is director of the In-House program, and Andrew Ducky is director of the travel program.”
Practice sessions take place two to three times a week for the travel teams, and once or twice, on weekends, for the In-House
players. Safety issues are very important, emphasize the directors, and certified gear is required for all players, including helmets, padding, and gloves. Certified referees oversee the games.
Participation in the hockey program offers many benefits, believes Loxam. “It’s important for the kids to step up and support the team, to be on time, and follow through on their commitment. This is a very good life lesson.
“We always emphasize good sportsmanship, and we encourage development of multi-sport athletes. This helps the overall development of the kids. In the summer, they can play baseball, soccer, and lacrosse. They use different muscles, and become better athletes.
“I am very pleased to be part of the association,” he continues. “What I like most is helping the kids develop a real appreciation of the sport. It’s something I loved growing up, and I want to be able to create something I can pass along to others, and help to instill a love of the game.”
Adds Preziosis: “The opportunities for girls are really growing, and many more girls are joining the program. We are really excited to see the development of the girls’ program. We currently have a girls’ team for ages 9 through 12, and another for 13- and 14-year-olds.“
Both directors look forward to an expanded program as a result of the merger. “The potential of what the program can become because of the merger is so important. It will give the kids excellent hockey opportunities. There is no downside with the merger. It offers great opportunities all around.”
For more information, consult the website: lawrenceflames.org.