Nov 02 2019

Nick Varano Has Figured Out All the Alleys

In New York, baseball has Aaron Judge and Pete Alonso while hockey has Henrik Lundquist and Mathew Barzal. As for bowling, we have Nick Varano. At only 17, the North Rockland High School student is the best bowler in the Lower Hudson Valley of any age or gender.

Earlier this year, Nick showcased a 242 average in a local league and a 235 average for the high school season. He threw two 800 series and one perfect game late last year.

Nick’s varsity accomplishments become more impressive when you learn that the Rockland County high school league is spread among three different bowling alleys in three different communities. No home alley advantage for this bowling star.

“He’s like a freak,” stated a former coach who was very successful during his bowling career. “But in a good way.”

The freak analogy must run in the family. Nick’s sister, Danielle, is an eight-time member of Team USA and she currently is one of the leading women bowlers in the world for the Professional Women’s Bowlers Association Tour. Even she stated what has become obvious: “He’s a freak of nature,” she said lovingly of her 6-foot-3 brother.

Though he has been so successful at such a young age, Nick has little interest in headlines and accolades. His personal goal always is a team goal—win the state championship.

Nick has thought about turning pro during the last few years. First, though, he wants to complete college and think about his options not just for bowling but for his life. Many coaches feel that Nick can be a PBA Tour titlist. We’ll just have to wait to learn what Nick decides.

Jan 15 2019

A Hockey Setback Takes Flight

Wilbur was a three-sport athlete. He enjoyed football, skating and gymnastics. He also was a very good student and had his sights on attending Yale.

One day, while playing hockey on a lake in his hometown of Dayton, Ohio, the 18-year-old was struck in the mouth with a stick wielded by another boy several years younger but much larger. It may have been an accident, but the boy was known as a bully. Years later, that same boy was executed for the murders of his mother, father and brother.

The hockey injury caused weeks of excruciating mouth and jaw pain for Wilbur. Several front teeth were lost and replaced by the crude dentistry of the day. This led to digestive complications, heart palpitations and depression. Wilbur remained a recluse for three years, ending his pursuit of a Yale education. During that time, though, he initiated what became a passion for reading and learning. He read about everything and had a specific fascination for history.

Wilbur was close to his younger brother, who had started a print shop that issued a town newspaper and then began publishing a variety of reading material. They worked together in the printing business and then they became involved in the growing bicycle craze that had swept the nation. Since they both enjoyed mechanics, the brothers opened a shop that sold and repaired bicycles.

When the younger brother was diagnosed with typhoid, he spent more than a month in bed. As he recovered, Wilbur read to him. Together, they became fascinated about the discoveries of Otto Lilienthal, a German glider enthusiast who had studied the flight motions of birds.

The brothers were excited about Lilienthal’s experiments and they never stopped learning. After several years of planning, they decided to use their mechanics ingenuity and their interest in the flight of birds to build several flying machines. They tested their creations at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

The Wright Brothers, Wilbur and Orville, changed history. The setback for Wilbur while playing hockey was just one of many catalysts in their lives that led to the collaboration that taught the world how to fly.

Apr 02 2018

Guided To The NHL By Family And Faith

Steven Santini feels that family and faith have guided him on his journey to fulfill his dream of becoming an NHL defenseman. He already has played more than 70 games with the New Jersey Devils.

Steven attended a Catholic high school in Westchester County for his freshman and sophomore years. He later attended the Jesuit Boston College. The religious education helped him grow spiritually. The hockey education helped him grow his game.

Steven’s road to the NHL did swerve a bit during high school. The final two years were spent in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He transferred to a local school to participate in the U.S. National Team Development Program and gain international hockey experience.

Just 23 now, Steven most recently was sent out for more seasoning with the Devils’ minor league team. He said the coaching staff communicated with him and told him the skills that required improvement. He felt that it was okay to take a step back to push the reset button. He is confident that he soon will return to the NHL. Since beginning his professional career, Steven also has returned to BC to earn his business degree.

Steven always has received the support of family. He first stepped on the ice at the age of two. He didn’t have a choice, because the family owned a local ice rink. His 86-year-old grandfather still competes on the ice. Bob coached at Mount St. Michael Academy in The Bronx and was a founder and first commissioner of the Catholic High School Hockey League. Steven’s father, also Steve, played at the Mount and the University of Maine before coaching at John F. Kennedy Catholic High School.

What began as a child’s fun time on the ice has turned into a passion for professional hockey. Steven owes it all to his family, his education, his coaches and his faith.

Jan 15 2018

Primary Care Assist For Amateur Hockey Community

A wife of a college hockey coach is not only married to the man. She is married to the game.

Mary Gosek long ago embraced her role in upstate Oswego and throughout the larger hockey community. According to her husband, Mary knew everyone. Ed Gosek is in his 15th year as the head coach at the State University of New York Oswego.

Mary was diagnosed with ovarian cancer a few years ago. The community she knew so well rallied to support her. Hockey Coaches Care is just one group that skated to center ice for Mary. The program provided a grant that helped her receive tests that were not covered by her health insurance.

Last year, a healthy Mary attended the Hockey Coaches Care banquet to thank everyone who had supported her and her family. She also championed the many others who have been helped over the past 15 years by the program.

Anyone who has played the game here on Long Island knows that the hockey world is a tight community. We see this regularly on the National Hockey League level as the league, teams and players frequently support a variety of causes. The same occurs in the game’s amateur and youth ranks, and many of us have seen the outpouring of love right here in the rinks of Nassau and Suffolk counties.

Since its founding, Hockey Coaches Care has awarded more than $100,000 in grants for coaches, their family members and amateur players. The Goseks will ensure that the program continues to grow to help other families.

At the banquet, Mary stated that the amount of a grant is not the most important aspect of the program. The emotional connection to the hockey community, she said, is the key component that helps people in their time of need.

Feb 15 2017

A Second Chance To Change A Life

He wasn’t quick. He was fast. He flew down the ice. Dan Brady played recreational hockey at the C level, but he played the game hard and he used his speed.

When Dan was a teenager, he would not take a soda or a beer at the rink bar after a game. Pure water was his preference as he was training.

Dan’s training focused on his passion for the fire department. He rose to the rank of lieutenant and he also was on his town’s team in the national Firefighter Combat Challenge. Fast, disciplined and fully committed. Then something changed.

Dan moved across the state border. He left the fire department for a technician job but continued to play hockey. He then joined a motorcycle club, left it and joined another club.

Training no longer was a priority in Dan’s life. He started drinking and using drugs. Then, he was in an accident.

Dan doesn’t remember the day and he doesn’t remember the crash. He was told that he slammed into a tree after a night of drinking at a motorcycle clubhouse. He broke several vertebrae, lapsed into a coma and now doesn’t remember the several months preceding the accident.

At 29 years of age, Dan has taken full responsibility for his failure. He also has refocused his life. Dan is involved with sports again by using an adaptive wheelchair. He participates in kayaking, waterskiing, golf, softball, rugby, sled hockey and hand-cycling. He also drives a specially-equipped van and is learning to move unassisted from his bed and into a wheelchair.

Dan admits he is no longer that person on the motorcycle. He never wants to see that guy again. He now wants to talk to youth about his life.

Dan feels the young people need to hear his story so they can meet the guy before the accident and learn how he shoulders the blame for the way his life changed. He will be happy if he could change just one person’s life for the better before it is too late.

Jan 16 2017

Pat LaFontaine Leads Companions In Courage

Hockey fans know Pat LaFontaine. He scored 468 goals during 15 seasons for three (Islanders, Rangers and Sabres) New York hockey teams. He has said that his Hall of Fame career prepared him for life after hockey.

That path has pointed him in many different directions, including working with youth hockey players on Long Island. It also took him this past October to the Vatican in Rome, where he participated in a conference on faith and sports.

At the gathering, Pat was joined by New York Giants co-owner John Mara, soccer legend Pele and tennis star Roger Federer. The conference united sports people from all faiths, nationalities and cultures to arrive at a common goal – help people in need, especially the marginalized and the disadvantaged, and to encourage everyone to develop life skills, character, values and enjoyment of life through sports.

Back home, Pat has been helping others for 20 years. During 1997, Pat and his wife started The Companions in Courage Foundation. The foundation brings Xbox Kiosks and playrooms, known as the Lion’s Den, to children in hospitals across North America. Pat figures that the foundation has distributed more than 400 kiosks to more than 100 hospitals. Earlier this month, the foundation partnered with the NHL to deliver its 20th Lion’s Den, placing it at St. Louis Children’s Hospital during the NHL’s celebration of its Winter Classic outdoor game.

The Companions in Courage Foundation serves more than 50,000 patients each year. It is active with 15 hospitals in New York, including Westchester Medical Center’s Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital. This facility was the home of the first Lion’s Den that continues to provide children with the opportunity to leave their rooms and participate in the excitement enjoyed by so many other children who use computers, play Xbox, watch television and enjoy movies. A frequent visitor to the hospital, Pat connects with the patients and the families as he talks and plays games with the children.

Grateful and thankful for everything he has in life, Pat is excited about the future for his foundation. New paths certainly will open for him as he continues on the road to help others.

Dec 16 2016

Amateur Lacrosse Player Becomes Respected Professional Hockey Coach

He was studious in college and he covered his long hair with a San Francisco Giants cap that he wore backward. He loved hockey and he frequently attended games at the nearby NHL arena when his friends from Canada came into town to play the local team. He even played on his university’s club hockey team.

After college, he went to law school in Michigan. Soon after, he began coaching hockey at Catholic Central High School in Grand Rapids as a favor to a judge whose son played on the team. The team won a regional title and the lawyer turned coach was hooked.

The coach continued to rise within the amateur hockey ranks. Then he moved on to the professional minor leagues. For the last few years, Jon Cooper has been coaching a very successful NHL team – the Tampa Bay Lighting.

This young fellow (he’s only 49) already has accomplished a lot. All of it just seemed to happen. Actually, Jon made it happen. He is bright, charismatic and has this certain smile. People want to be around him.

When he fields questions about his coaching profession, Jon regularly responds that he’s a people manager. He also feels that he brings the philosophy of life to coaching. Early on, he considered himself more of a life coach than a tactical coach.

Jon’s athletic roots travel back to his teenage years as an indoor lacrosse star in British Columbia. The rest started to fall into place when he attended Hofstra University and played lacrosse for Harry Royle.

A love for hockey, an education and lacrosse career at Hofstra, law school and now Jon is coaching in the best hockey league in the world. There are many reasons to applaud Jon’s success. Glad to know that lacrosse and Hofstra made significant contributions.

Aug 17 2015

Height Doesn’t Matter…..Size Of Heart Does

Some athletes just never measured up by height standards. But short players still have achieved considerable success in Major League Baseball and other professional sports.

While the shortest player in baseball history was a publicity stunt (43-inch Eddie Gaedel batted once and walked for the St. Louis Browns), many other players who were taller than Eddie but shorter than most other big leaguers have appeared since 1900. Five players were just 5-foot-3. One inch taller was Hall of Fame outfielder Wee Willie Keeler. At 5-foot-5, Hall of Fame shortstop Rabbit Maranville and three-time All-Star Freddie Patek made headlines. Then, just an inch taller were Hall of Famers Phil Rizzuto, Miller Huggins and Hack Wilson, and just one up from that were HOFs Yogi Berra and Joe Morgan.

Presently, 5-foot-5 Jose Altuve, the shortest player in the major leagues in more than 30 years, is an All-Star with the Houston Astros. Dustin Pedroia at 5-foot-9 and Jimmy Rollins at 5-foot-7 have had exceptional long careers in the game.

In hockey, a couple of height challenged players, Martin St. Louis and Mats Zuccarello, made a huge impact for the New York Rangers during the last couple of seasons. The recently retired St. Louis is on his way to the Hockey Hall of Fame while Zucc certainly will continue to improve his game and perform at the highest level that is the NHL.

At 5-foot-3, Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues holds the record as the shortest player in NBA history. In the NFL, 5-foot-7 Maurice Jones-Drew led the league in rushing with 1,606 yards during the 2011 season while Brandon Banks, also 5-foot-7, lead the NFL in kick returns and kick return yards that same season with 1,174 yards on 52 returns.

So, as you can see, the height of an athlete sometimes has nothing to do with his or her personal achievements, the role the athlete will play on a team, or the impact each will have for a team. For each of the players mentioned here, and for the many more not mentioned or still working their way up, we must remember always to look first at the size of their hearts. That is the true measure of success.

- Jim


Dec 15 2014

Zoook Knows How To Come Up Really Big

At Madison Square Garden, you can hear the crowd call out “Zoook” a number of times during each game. Forward Mats Zuccarello is one of the most popular New York Rangers. He has speed, good stick-handling skills and scoring ability. He also likes to check and scrum with the big boys.

Mats is just five feet and seven inches tall. Most players tower over him—up to a foot higher and 50-100 pounds heavier. Despite his size on the low end, Mats is easy to spot on the ice whether you are sitting in the nosebleed seats or watching the game on television. His long, shaggy hair flows from the helmet. He carries an extra-long left-handed stick. The puck seems to find him, or vice-versa.

Mats’ skating and passing are so quick that sometimes television cameras are a half-step behind him. You must rely on the video replay to fully grasp his unbelievable passing or how the puck got behind the goalie. One of his teammates said that Mats also is sometimes tough to find on the ice as he’s often hiding behind somebody else in the corner.

Though his stature doesn’t measure up to players on his team and on other rosters, Mats already has enjoyed significant success in the game. He was one of the Rangers best offensive and shoot-out players last season. He was the only NHL player on Norway’s roster for the Winter Olympic Games in Russia. Before coming to the NHL, he had starred for his team in the top-rated Swedish league.

Mats certainly is quick, but he also works hard on the other areas of his game while remaining calm on the ice. Practice is the one place where Mats displays a demonstrative side. He will compete fiercely with goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, and he celebrates scoring on his teammate with something described as a slow-motion dance, gliding with one skate off the ice and knee bent with arms and stick raised high.

The way Mats works and the way he plays has elevated him to Norwegian sports star status. In New York, the Ranger fans salute him by constantly calling his name and listening for the echo throughout MSG—“Zoook!”

Mats Zuccarello shows us that it doesn’t matter how tall you are, but it does matter how big you play the game. That can guarantee longevity in the NHL and for the rest of us in our careers.

Jim


Dec 02 2014

A Firing That Turned Into Success

We are in the midst of another competitive hockey season in this area so soon after the New York Rangers played an exciting 2013-2014 season that fell just a few games short of a championship. Leading the team is Coach Alain Vigneault.

Alain spent 36 years living, playing and coaching hockey before he accepted, during 1997, the most demanding position in the NHL. He became the second-youngest coach of the Montreal Canadians.

The Montreal position was his first head coaching job in the league. In three seasons, he reached the playoffs one time. Where Stanley Cup championships are measured not by the season but by the week, he was replaced quickly.

The experience validated his approach as a tactician and communicator behind the bench. The position reinforced his core beliefs that led to seven winning years in Vancouver and his successful debut season with the Rangers. The short time in Montreal, according to one player, put Alain through more than some coaches will see in an entire career.

Confident in his ability when he accepted the Montreal job, Alain also was smart to surround himself with established assistant coaches. With them, he planned practices that were weighted with instruction. The sessions were timed to the second. Hours were spent discussing tactics and devising game plans. He clarified every detail so his players clearly understood their responsibilities.

Alain always has employed a direct approach with his players—candid and respectful in closed-door meetings. He speaks in black and white, and players always know what he is thinking. During the game, no matter the situation, he breathes a calming influence on the bench.

Alain was fired from Montreal for what the team president said was an unacceptable performance. His boss did not take into account that Alain fought through three years of injuries that forced him to integrate minor leaguers who may not have been ready to play in the NHL. More likely, his boss understood the situation, but the pressure in Montreal to win is a daily event. Alain, as the coach, was on the hot seat and he was fired to release some steam.

Ever the diplomat, when he heard the news that he was out as coach, Alain said that Montreal was a great place to coach and that the place brought out the best in him. He took that experience first to Vancouver and then to New York, leading each team to a Stanley Cup Final appearance.

Alain’s philosophy is simple: “Everybody says to be yourself and to stick with what you believe in. If at one point you’re shown the door, at least you did it your way.”

Good advice for coaches and for those of us in business.

Jim