NEWARK, NJ – This was supposed to be rising senior Jeffrey Hoens’ year to start between the pipes for St. Peter’s Prep ice hockey. Instead, he was memorialized by teammates at a home pre-season game against Canisius (Buffalo, NY) on Friday, Nov. 25 at the Barnabas Health Hockey House just four months after his tragic death from a diving accident at the Shark River Inlet in Avon this summer.
Hoens was honored in a pre-game ceremony and the retirement of his jersey number, which was hung on the main concourse at the Prudential Center. His mother, Karym Hoens, participated in the ceremonial puck-drop before the game. Marauders captain Matt Koziel presented her and her husband, Tom Hoens, with flowers.
“We were devastated and I think we are still healing as a team,” St. Peter’s Prep ice hockey coach Mike Goodrich said before the game. “Hopefully this will help with that healing and I think the team will recognize that today.”
Goodrich recalled Hoens’ junior season and his subsequent rise to the team’s starting goaltender.
“Our starter got injured last year, two days before a tournament, and Jeff stepped in,” explained Goodrich. “He made 55 stops that night and we won 2-0. Then he went on to win five in a row. It was something special.
“It was his shot to play and when he did, he shined,” Goodrich continued. “He jump-started our season a little and you could just feel the confidence that the team had with him in the net."
Hundreds of other current students, alumni and family attended the game to show their support for the Hoens family.
Matthew Phillips, a Westfield resident and senior at St. Peter’s Prep, knew Jeff since sixth grade and their friendship continued to grow at the Jersey City private school, he said. One of his best memories with Jeff at St. Peter’s was the time they spent together at Kairos, a four-day retreat the school hosts every year.
“It allowed us to connect on a personal level and be close,” Phillips said.
Scott Andreas, now a freshman at Boston College, was among the many St. Peter’s alumni in attendance. He spoke fondly of Hoens and recalled his ascent to starting goaltender last year.
“When I was injured, he had to step into a big spot,” said Andreas. “I wrote him a letter and told him that I believe in him.”
“He went in and won six or seven games straight,” Andreas continued. “He took my starting position from me and I had no problem with it. It was my senior year and I would have loved to have been on the ice, but seeing how much he transformed from freshman year to be the starting goalie was something that was amazing.”
The Hoens family had nothing but praise for St. Peter’s Prep and their son’s fellow students.
“The entire focus of St. Peter’s Prep is to build a man for others,” said Karym Hoens, who told many stories about her son that evening. “It’s not simply about academics and getting better grades. It’s about love, passion and life. In life, it’s about who we touch, who we connect with and the impact we have on other people’s lives and St. Peter’s Prep does a great job of instilling those values.”
Her husband echoed her sentiments.
“My family is more than touched and honored by the Prep community and ice hockey community for coming together in a time like this,” said Tom Hoens. “The Prep community has been very supportive of the family ever since the first day and the efforts of the team in helping to try and heal the kids in moving forward.”
That healing process has been one that has featured multiple discussions.
“They’ve had a number of retreats since and Jeff has the number one topic of discussion,” Tom Hoens said “We gave the team an oar, which comes from coach P.J. Fleck of Western Michigan University who lost his son. Through the use of this oar it is a rallying point for his team. The challenge for these kids is to row the boat and try to draw strength and encouragement from it.”
Goodrich praised the Hoens family and said that they’re “the most optimist people” he’s ever been around.
“They energize me and make me want to be a better person," he said.
The Marauders came out of the gates strong as senior Mike Gallo scored the game’s opening goal in just 21 seconds.
“It was huge for our momentum in such an important game for us,” said Gallo after the game. “It was great to get up quick.”
After giving up four second period goals, the Marauders trailed Canisius 4-3 entering the third period. A goal at the half-way point in the third period tied the game back up.
Mike Zdanowicz scored the game-winning goal late in the third period and added an empty-netter a few minutes later to seal the game.
“I came down and took a shot; the goalie made a great save, but I followed the rebound hard to the net and buried it,” said Zdanowicz, describing the sequence of events after the game. “It meant the world to me [to score that goal]. We came into this game knowing that we had to win this one for Jeff. It wasn’t even about the game of hockey; this was just for Jeff.”
Zdanowicz, a senior, said that he will always cherish the memories of playing together and fishing with Hoens, who he was very close with.
After the game, the Hoens family and the St. Peter’s Prep team were recognized by the New Jersey Devils on the Jumbotron in the first period of their 5-4 overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings.