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Sean Leahy

State hockey title decided 21 years after game cancellation

Sean Leahy
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If you played sports in high school, there's probably one game you wish you could play all over again. Maybe you lost the game due to a mistake. Maybe it was won in dramatic fashion. Maybe you just want to experience the camaraderie normally found in team sports.

For two New Jersey high school hockey teams in 1989, their lasting memory of the season was incomplete. St. Joseph's and Delbarton, two hockey powerhouses, were expected to meet in the NJ State Championship; before they could, the game was cancelled. A measles outbreak at Delbarton caused the game to be called off and both schools were declared co-champions.

For the two rivals, it was a bitter way to "earn" a championship. No one could be satisfied by the result. Attempts to reschedule the game failed due to the beginning of spring sports by the time the Delbarton players were cleared to play, and the fact that there was no practice time left. The players moved on, graduated and the game was left to be settled in the imaginations of those who were to participate.

Last year, St. Joseph's Scott Williams and Delbarton's James Olson began organizing the "Frozen Flashback", the New Jersey State Ice Hockey Championship game that never happened, after reading a 20th anniversary story about the game in the New Jersey Star-Ledger. Many of the players from the '89 teams were able to attend, some from as far as California and Texas.

It wasn't just a game. It became an event.

When word started to spread, organizers turned it into a charitable venture. More than $200,000 was raised with proceeds benefiting the NHL's Hockey Fights Cancer and The Valerie Fund, an organization that helps children with cancer and blood disorders.

A crowd of 2,500 people filled Mennen Arena (the would-be host of the '89 title game) in Morristown, New Jersey last Saturday and saw Delbarton win 3-2. From Art Stapleton of NorthJersey.com:

Now they are lawyers and firefighters, mortgage brokers and correction officers, fathers and husbands. The one constant - something they all hoped to prove by lacing up their skates and representing their high schools one more time - is that they're still hockey players, albeit two decades older.

[...]

Delbarton jumped out to a three-goal lead, only to have St. Joseph rally for two in the third period, making for a fascinating display of heart and determination over the game's final minutes. When the last horn sounded, Delbarton had earned its celebration, not to mention the Frozen Flashback Cup presented by [NJ Governor Christie] at center ice.

The hockey part of the event was 21 years in the making, but what came out of the game in the long run will be what means the most as Williams told the Star-Ledger after the game:

"This was better than any of us could have expected," Williams said. "The good will that's been generated for this from so many companies and individuals has blown us all away. We were able to do some good for a lot of people who really need help. I think I can say this was the most meaningful men's hockey game in the country today."

As St. Joseph forward Brendan Reilly told Stapleton: "This was never about a game. It was about the moment we earned as teams."

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