Hockey At Its Purest
By Emily Iannaconi
Special to GoHolyCross.com
Monday, Jan. 23 was not a typical game day for the Holy Cross men’s hockey team. Members of the team who ordinarily play defense or offense could be found in the net and goalies were skating around the ice instead. Energy was high, as the Crusaders prepared to take on the East Coast Jumbos hockey team.
The tradition of playing the Jumbos began in 2012 when Andrea Gendron '15, a member of the women’s track and field team and a volunteer with the Jumbos all throughout high school, introduced the men’s hockey program to the East Coast Jumbos.
The Jumbos is a group of coed athletes who range in age from 7-45 years old with various disabilities and challenges. The program was created by Ray LeBlanc when he realized that two of his sons were able to play hockey, but his other son could not. Wanting to create a team that his son could play on, LeBlanc teamed with his friend Jim Perry, whose son is also on the team. Together they created the East Coast Jumbos.
Coach LeBlanc of the Jumbos explained the importance of this game to his team every year. “Every year, our kids look forward to this event that we run with Holy Cross,” said Coach LeBlanc. “Being in the locker rooms and hanging out with the kids after is just as meaningful as the ice time. With social media, half these kids are friends with the players on Facebook and stay connected beyond just this game.”
The team started off small and originally only held practices to teach the players how to skate, but it quickly grew. Today, many of the Jumbos players attend tournament games like the one at Holy Cross. The Jumbos now practice and compete on a regular basis.
The evening on the Hill began with drills between the two teams with the game starting shortly after. The Jumbos and the Crusaders played together for the majority of the game but also divided into their respective teams for some of the third period. The final score of the game was 11-11.
Head coach of the Holy Cross men’s hockey team David Berard talked about how excited the Holy Cross players get to play against the Jumbos every year. “To see the smiles on our players faces and the smiles of the Jumbos makes for a fun experience overall,” said Berard. “From the very first year, it has been incredibly rewarding to be out there with the Jumbos.”
Sophomore goaltender Tommy Nixon, who stepped out of his usual place in the net for the game and skated around with his teammates, explained why the annual game against the Jumbos is one of his favorite events. “First off, for me and Paul Berrafato, it’s great to take off the pads and have some fun and show the guys on our team that we aren’t just guys who stand in the crease,” said Nixon. “We remember the Jumbos’ names and they all remember us. I had a guy come up to me this year and say, ‘Tommy, why aren’t you in the net?’ It’s a really good event to bring us all together so we can learn a lot from them but also teach them some of the higher-end hockey that we play.”
In addition to playing different positions, the Holy Cross starters enjoy having the opportunity to act as a coach to the Jumbos. Junior Scott Pooley was an enthusiastic and excited motivator to the players throughout the game. Pooley said that it is fun to act in a role that he does not usually occupy. “It’s fun for everyone and a good getaway for us to not worry about the season for a night,” said Pooley. “Everyone has a smile on their face and is working hard. It’s amazing how hockey brings people together. It doesn’t matter where you’re from or what you do, we are all out there sharing that same passion for the game.”
Junior captain Brett Mulcahy, who has played in the game against the Jumbos for three years now, appreciates the perspective each game brings to him and his teammates.“It’s a lot of fun for us, and the Jumbos to come out and play around. At the same time our guys take a lot of pride in coming out here each year,” said Mulcahy. “It’s hockey at its purest form. It brings you back to your roots and takes the serious part out of it. And seeing what the Jumbos get out of it warms our hearts.”
Though on different teams, the Crusaders and the Jumbos are united each year in a game that is not about winning but is instead about a shared love and appreciation for the sport of hockey.
BE PART OF THE ACTION THIS SEASON:
- To purchase tickets for the 2016-2017 Holy Cross men's hockey season, call 1-844-GOCROSS or visit GoHolyCross.com/Tickets.
- There are numerous ways to stay connected with the Holy Cross men's hockey team. Follow the Crusaders on Twitter@HCrossMHockey, Facebook and Instagram.