Open Season For Young Players

Yesterday was the double header of new beginnings: first day of public school and the first day of ice hockey practice. Ice hockey and education match strides in New Jersey, with the Devils and teachers reporting for the new season at the same time, and the Stanley Cup playoffs reaching their conclusion at about the same time schoolwork winds down. For those of us decades removed from a classroom, the regular candence of (sports) seasons gives us something by which to look for a rejuvenation, the sense of anticipation that you used to get from a brand-new notebook and a fresh box of pencils.

Each year I love watching the new Devils youth hockey players come to their first games and practices, realizing they are sharing the facility with their older and better-paid namesakes. Last year our team had to wait while Scott Gomez and Patrik Elias finished a workout; last night some of our players had to look for their gear bags because the Devils' minor league equipment manager mistakenly put them in the locker room where the Devils' prospects have been dressing. I always think of that room as "our" room, for the youth players, but when you have twenty young men working hard for the last roster spots on an NHL team, they are forced to live in the DMZ between youth and pro hockey -- not in the pro dressing area, not completely removed from the smells and sounds of getting dressed in the hallway.

Poking my head into the locker room, I saw the nameplates hastily added above the dressing stalls -- Varana, Voros, Parise -- names that may be important to Devils fans in the next few years. Zach Parise's stall, though, was empty. I asked, and was told it's because he's at Olympic camp, shooting (literally) for a trip to Turin in Feburary. We'll see how America's focus on youth plays out during the Olympics, and by then maybe we'll find the first set of gloves to go missing this season.

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