RANDOLPH, NJ – A 10-member youth hockey team made up of local kids flew to Europe last week, won every game it played, and is planning to go back next year.
The 9- amd 10-year-olds of Team USA Bulldogs went 5-0 “against against top teams in Sweden and Finland,” said team general manager Kevin Melly.
The team includes Morristown’s Jordan Papadopoulos, 9, Roxbury’s Ryan Van Zile, 10, Randolph’s Shane Melly, 10, Roxbury’s Nick Colatrella, 10, Denville’s Jake McCloud, 10, Randolph’s Keegan Melly, 10, Randolph’s Robert Magnotta, 10, Morris Plains' Andrew Nicholas, 9, Jefferson's Hunter Parrillo, 9, and Stanhope's Ryan Puco, 9.
The games “were the highlight of the towns in Sweden and Finland and the local population came out in support of their teams against the team from America,” Melly said, adding that several hundred locals came to (unsuccessfully) root for the home teams.
“What made it so special was that we had our families and friends with us,” he said. “We had almost 50 family and friends travel on this trip, many of whom traveled to New Jersey from around the country to join us on our flight to Europe. I told our boys that the best compliment I can get about our team is when the game is over, win or lose, our opponent says ‘we would like to have you back.’”
That happened, said Melly. “Every one of our hosts wants to play us again,” he said. “Indeed, we are already working on the next trip … As word spread about our team, we have begun negotiations with top teams in the Czech Republic, Italy, Russia and other possible locations for next year.”
While there, the team attended a Swedish Hockey League (SHL) professional game (Djurgården Stockholm vs. IF Malmö Redhawks) at which one of the players, Tom Nilsson, who was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs, met with the New Jersey boys, Melly said.
While hockey was the big part of the trip, it wasn’t everything. “We had dinners with our opponents and their families; went on a cruise between Helsinki and Stockholm; visited the world famous Vasa Museum which shows the only existing 17th century ship, visited the Alfred Nobel Prize Museum and visited the Royal Palace of the King & Queen of Sweden in Stockholm among many other exciting trip events,” Melly noted.
He said the host teams are working on a movie DVD about the visit. “I told the boys, on the bus ride home from the airport, that though this trip is over the journey will continue with great memories and stories that they will have forever.”
During their practices, the young players wore their "Team Matt" jerseys in honor of 10-year-old Roxbury hockey player Matt Adonis, who is fighting a brain tumor.