RANDOLPH, NJ – The Christmas holiday for some local boys will include playing ice hockey in Europe against top teams from Sweden and Finland.
The 9- and 10-year-old boys are members of Team USA Bulldogs, an elite travel team based in Randolph. The team includes Morristown’s Jordan Papadopoulos, 9, Roxbury’s Ryan Van Zile, 10, Randolph’s Shane Melly, 10, Roxbury’s Brian Colatrella, 9, 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.
Although the team is not part of USA Hockey, the governing team of the U.S. national ice hockey team, the youngsters will – in a sense – be representing the United States when they take the trip, said team general manager Kevin Melly.
“We talked last night about how, whenever you’re an American and you go overseas, you’re an ambassador for your country and you have to act appropriately,” Melly said.
That discussion came after the boys were presented with a certificate of recognition from the U.S. Congress, he said. “These boys are really great kids,” Melly said. “I asked them last night how many know what’s in Washington, D.C. They all said the White House or Donald Trump. I asked if anybody knew about the branches of government. They didn't, so I told them about Congress and that Congress had recognized them.”
The team, which uses Aspen Ice in Randolph as its home rink, will make the trip during the week between Christmas and New Years, a period when there are no local hockey games and school is out.
“It’s a great time to bring the boys and their families over,” Melly said. “We’re bringing upwards of 50 people to Europe. They’re going to have a police escort … to the airport and a big, charter bus. It’s a really great thing.”
The young athletes are hand-picked for the team not only for their hockey skills but also for their academic performance and demeanor, Melly said.
“Their hockey skills are all great and everything, but what we really look for is the type of individuals they are. When he falls does he get back up right away? What’s he going to be like in the third period? That’s what we want … We even interview the parents to see what kind of family environment they come from. It’s very important to us they get the right people.”
Most of the Team USA Bulldogs also play on other area youth ice hockey teams, including township recreation teams, Melly said. Although the team, which plays about 12 games a year, is currently only at the “squirts” age level, there are plans to expand to other age groups, he said.