The end of summer is fast approaching, and while most folks are still thinking of barbecues and the beach, there are some who are thinking about ice. Hockey training camps will open in a few weeks, and for a group of young men from Bergen County, the thought of heading into a cool rink has more appeal than just beating the summer heat.
While New Jersey will never be confused with Minnesota or the Canadian provinces when it comes to producing volumes of hockey talent, Bergen has served as a launching point for many fine players. The following six players are among our county's elite, the ones who figure to come the closest to realizing the dream of playing in the National Hockey League.
Dan May and J.J. Picinic have coached all six players over the years in the Avalanche program at the Ice House in Hackensack. May praises their commitment to the sport.
"These six players and many others who are up-and-coming in the North Jersey Avalanche organization have demonstrated so much passion and determination for the game," May says. "They have made many sacrifices – sometimes giving up other sports – to get to this level of skill. They play year-round on teams and in tournaments to get to this level. Their families, too, are equally committed to the sport. It makes for a wonderful corps of friends."
May points to the future of the players; that they have yet to reach their full potential.
"They're strong and they're elite, but they still have room to develop," May says. "They've separated themselves from other players, but they won't hit their potential until they're in their 20s."
While their former coach sees a bright future, he offers sage advice for the long haul.
"Be a good person," May advises, "because you're going to be a man much longer than you're going to be a hockey player."
Upper Saddle River
Quotable: "Play like you're in first place and practice like you're in second."
Now playing for: University of Michigan Wolverines
Favorite hockey moment: Playing Team Canada in the gold medal game at the under-18 tournament
Selman is a gritty, bruising player who isn't afraid to mix it up in the corners, as evidenced by the 91 penalty minutes he accumulated in 59 games this season for the Sioux Falls Stampede of the USHL. He finished the season with 11 goals and 34 points in 59 games and will take his talents to the University of Michigan in September.
The former Bergen Catholic star, who played in the USHL Top Prospect Game this season, was ranked 175th among all draft-eligible players in the NHL Central Scouting Bureau's mid-season report. Selman began his USHL career with the Des Moines Buccaneers, for whom he scored six goals in 29 games, but he was traded to Sioux Falls prior to the 2011-12 season.
"He is probably the most complete player of this group," Dan May, the North Jersey Avalanche coach for whom Selman played at Bergen Catholic, says. "He's big, he's fast, he's tough and he's a natural goal scorer. He's a playmaker, a really complete player. I imagine he'll get drafted pretty high because he keeps finding a way to excel at whatever level he plays."
Quotable: "The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war."
Now playing for: Boston University Terriers
Favorite hockey moment: Making the hockey east all-rookie team
Alexx Privitera was named to the Hockey East All-Rookie Team after collecting four goals and 14 points in 25 games for Boston University. He also had a plus-minus rating of +8 and blocked 35 shots despite missing a month with a broken wrist.
"Alexx is a very rare find," May says. "He's a defenseman with just an innate ability to create offense. He's a little bit high-risk type of guy. He's a quarterback out there, an exceptionally gifted offensive defenseman. He had that little hiccup this season where he was out a couple of weeks but otherwise he had a great freshman season. He has always been a step above his class."
Alexx is a former member of the USNTD. He also played in the USHL, where he was named an all-star during the 2010-11 season with Muskegon. The former Bergen Catholic star earned all-state honors while playing for the Crusaders in 2009.
Quotable: "Be passionate and practice."
Now playing for: Green Bay Gamblers, USHL
Favorite hockey moment: Winning the Avalanche Christmas Tournament two years in a row
Rosenthal, a former Bergen Catholic star, recently completed his prep career at The Kent School in Connecticut. He will play for Green Bay of the USHL during the 2012-13 season before heading to the University of Vermont in the fall of 2013.
"A lot of kids have peaks and valleys," Picinic says, "but Ryan has always had a steady incline of getting better every year. He's smooth and he understands the game very well. He's a good penalty killer, too. He's one of the best skaters in his age class and he's in ridiculous shape. If he doesn't become a hockey player, he could become an Abercrombie model."
Quotable: "Great opportunities come when you work hard."
Now playing for: Cedar Rapids RoughRiders, USHL
Favorite hockey moment: Winning the mite state championship with the Avalanche in his first year
Birdsall, 15, will join the USHL this fall after signing a tender with the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders. Though he'll be one of the youngest goalies in the league, the RoughRiders offered him the chance to start a minimum of 20 games.
As a freshman, Birdsall helped take Glen Rock to the New Jersey State Public B Semifinals, where they lost in a shootout to Tenafly. Birdsall allowed four goals in four playoff games, which included posting a shutout streak of 1:08:22. He was 3-2-1 during the regular season, with a 1.27 GA in 318 minutes.
Birdsall also tried out for the USNDT and, like Piccinich, was not sure when or if a formal invitation to join the team would come. He was also a teammate of Piccinich's on the North Jersey Avalanche squad that played in the U-16 National Championships in Buffalo earlier this year.
Quotable: "Have a purpose and work hard when nobody's watching."
Now playing for: The Gunnery, Connecticut
Favorite hockey moment: Beating Detroit Compuware in double overtime at nationals in Chicago
Jarrid Privitera will join his big brother Alexx at Boston University in the fall of 2013. He will play in the USHL next season after graduating from The Gunnery, a Connecticut prep school, where he scored 25 goals and had 18 assists in 31 games. Jarrid also picked up an assist while appearing in three games for the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the USHL.
"Jarrid is still a little unproven," May says, "but he finished up a strong prep career this season and is a stocky, powerful forward. He's a natural goal scorer."
Quotable: "Hard work pays off every time."
Now playing for: Youngstown Phantoms, ushl
Favorite hockey moment: Qualifying for nationals the first time
Piccinich, who completed his sophomore season at Paramus High School in June, will play for the Youngstown Phantoms of the United States Hockey League this fall. The dynamic winger led the Spartans with 37 goals and finished with 65 points – eye-catching numbers that drew the attention of programs in the United States and Canada.
The United States National Developmental Team asked Piccinich to try out for their squad in March. He remains open to the idea of playing for the USNDT but won't know until sometime this summer whether he earned a spot on the team.
Shortly after Piccinich was asked to try out for the USNDT, the London Knights of the prestigious Ontario Hockey League made him the 118th selection in the circuit's annual draft. He was one of only 50 Americans among the 304 players who were drafted. Piccinich opted not to sign with the Knights because it would have put an end to an amateur career that could include playing for Harvard, Yale, Brown, Princeton or Boston College.
"Piccinich has come a long way," says long-time Bergen County coach and former Providence College star J.J. Picinic. "He has an edge to him, and I think he has a very good shot of moving to the next level."
Dan May has been coaching youth hockey for more than 35 years and cherishes many memories of the stellar teams he's worked with through the decades.
A highlight is taking the 16-U Team to the national championships three years in a row.
"We made it to the final eight in a field of some 2,000 teams," says May. "It's a great feeling to coach these kids and see them achieve so much."
May coached 70 games last year and admits it's time to change his focus so that he can develop new coaching talent for the program and also be able to spend more time with his family. By design, he has turned his sights toward developing a corps of coaches for the 2012-2013 season.
"At the Ice House, we have more than 64 coaches working with the various teams, including The Avalanche," says May. "My business partners, Rob Bakos and Rob Hawkins and I are looking to mentor upcoming coaches as well as upcoming players."
May confesses that the transition is bittersweet, but still remains involved, coaching his youngest son, Logan.
May remembers fondly when J.J. Picinic, whom he had coached in a summer camp, wandered into the Ice House 15 years ago while he was a student at Providence College.
"J.J. came in wearing shorts and flip flops, looking for summer work," May recalls. "I asked him if he had his skates with him and he did. He was a great addition to the coaching staff and worked hard with the players."
Picinic, a Fort Lee native who now resides in Hoboken, played hockey at Bergen Catholic for two years, winning the New Jersey state scoring record. From BC, he went to Hotchkiss and then played hockey at Providence College. After graduation, he was head coach the Avalanche for seven years, before stepping away to build a business. Picinic still stays connected to the players.