This article originally appeared on USPHL.com.
Four straight Founders Cups (i.e., regular season championships) and the 2020-21 Dineen Cup (i.e., playoff championship) have positioned the Jersey Hitmen at the top of the pecking order over much of the five-year existence of the National Collegiate Development Conference. So it is no surprise to see that the Hitmen have been named the 2021-22 Organization Of The Year.
The Hitmen won that fourth straight Founders Cup this year even after the season with arguably the most parity in those five years. It wasn’t until February that the Hitmen held even a five-point lead on their closest competition.
But, they finally took care of business and achieved that first of many team goals. The Hitmen have many goals, and they also have many staff members who help them achieve these.
“I think this Organization Of The Year award recognizes not just the work of [Hitmen and Ice Vault owner] Bobby Reiss and the Reiss family, but it also recognizes our strength and conditioning coach, our trainer, our billet coordinator - there are a lot of people that go into making this soup. It’s not a reflection of just one person, but a reflection of everyone’s efforts in the organization,” said President Jim Hunt, who also serves as Associate Head Coach for the NCDC team, which finished first overall at 35-11-2-1.
“We obviously take a great deal of pride in the NCDC team’s success. The NCDC team is the crown jewel in our entire building, and as Jim points out, there’s a synergy, right down to having clean bathrooms,” said Reiss. “Everyone takes great pride in what Jim and Toby have accomplished, but it’s entire Hitmen organization from Youth to Junior that comes together. When the NCDC players come off the ice, our Little Hitmen and New Jersey Bandits players give them high fives.”
The Ice Vault has been a massive draw for hockey in North Jersey for its entire existence, its three sheets full essentially year-round. The Wayne, N.J., facility gets the spotlight every Columbus Day Weekend with the Hitmen Classic, one of the longest-running USPHL Showcase Series events. Coming as it does around the third or fourth NCDC weekend every year, teams get a chance to begin forming their team’s identity. The Hitmen went 2-1 at the Hitmen Classic last fall, a launching pad to better days ahead. Reiss is front and center every year at the event, welcoming people into his pride and joy of an ice hockey facility to see his pride and joy of a hockey team.
“The best way I can put it is Jim has an unlimited budget with this team and he goes over it every year,” said Reiss. “The team takes a lot of financial resources, but unlike other organizations whether professional or otherwise, it gets results.”
In the nearly 20-year history of the Hitmen, the top team has won the playoff championship six times - 2008, 2009 and 2013 in the former Eastern Junior Hockey League, and 2015, 2016 and 2021 in the USPHL. All of this has come with one Head Coach: Toby Harris.
Harris has just recently earned his 600th win with the Hitmen, and was part of the organization all the way back in its founding by Peter Masters Sr. and Peter Masters Jr., also still co-owners of the Boston Junior Bruins.
“That consistency is a critical piece of the puzzle, to have the continuity year in and year out,” said Hunt. “Coaching at the Tier II level requires a skill set that is really rare, and Toby has been able to figure out the challenges - at the player procurement level, at the on-ice level, and on the player advancement level - and the results speak for themselves.”
These results include a long and glorious list of alumni, which includes current NHL players Connor Clifton (Boston) and Brett Pesce (Carolina Hurricanes) as well as Army goalie Gavin Abric - a finalist for the Mike Richter Award - and a long line of NCAA Division I players enjoying great seasons.
“The Alumni list is a reflection of there being a place for winning in development,” said Hunt. “When guys learn how to win, they learn how to persevere, to overcome obstacles, and they take those lessons with them beyond the Hitmen. However, those qualities were instilled in them by their parents before they joined the Hitmen. I once had a coach who said ‘first you find the eagles, then you teach them to fly in formation.’”
The Hitmen’s eagles flew throughout last year in some of the stormiest skies this world has seen, with COVID-19 disrupting life across the globe.
“Last year, as an organization and the USPHL as a league, sent everyone to Florida to make sure we got the season in. But even before then, we played games outdoors at Englewood Field Club, to keep the players moving in one direction,” said Reiss. “That direction is to be a winning organization, and through that, you get them to what they’re really here for, which is a commitment to college hockey and a college education.”
The USPHL congratulates the Jersey Hitmen on being named the 2021-22 NCDC Organization Of The Year.