Some of Delaware’s best local high school ice hockey players recently laced up their skates to face off against some of the toughest competition in the country while raising funds to support other youngsters who can find the simple act of walking extremely painful.
Five top players from St. Mark’s and Salesianum were invited to join a special mid-Atlantic team – known as Delaware’s Open Net Foundation – to compete in Boston’s “Chowder Cup.” The annual hockey tournament is hosted by the New England Pro-Am League, which regularly attracts top talent from across North America. The Open Net Foundation team tied their efforts on the ice to raising funds for the Juvenile Arthritis.
Last month’s tournament featuring players ages 17 – 19 is the largest tournament of its kind, with many teams featuring current Division 1 players and prospects.
The 18-player Open Net Foundation team was assembled by invitation only from a dozen elite hockey clubs across five states. Open Net Foundation Coach Vince Falkwoski, head coach of University of Delaware D2 Ice Hockey Team, and assistant coach Bob Stroik led the recruitment efforts.
Team Open Net Foundation competed in a field of 96 teams from Canada to Florida, and they were thrilled with their 2-1-0 result. They closed their final Chowder Cup appearance with an exclamation point, posting a 10-0 victory over Tribe Black at the Canton Ice House. Based on the number tiebreaker of goals allowed, the team did not advance to the finals.
“We were shocked with the way we played. I don’t think anyone expected us to play that well,” said St. Mark’s rising senior Graham Kline. “When we went into this tournament, we didn’t think we would come out with that record.”
The record the players are most proud of is their fundraising totals for Juvenile Arthritis. In order to participate, each player was required to raise a minimum of $325. Donations are still coming in, but to date, $6,300 has been raised.
The local students who participated on Open Net Foundation’s team include
Graham Kline – Newark, St. Mark’s 2020
Nicholas Falkowski – Newark, Salesianum 2020
Kelly Stroik – Fair Hill, MD, St. Mark’s 2020
Dylan Johnson – Landenberg, PA Salesianum 2019
Matt Crane – Chadds Ford, PA Salesianum 2018
Kline said his participation in the national tier 1 tournament was exhilarating. “The hockey itself was incredible and the tournament was so much fun. The competition was something else – nothing compared to what you can get locally.”
St. Mark’s Senior Kelly Stroik has been playing the sport since he was three years old and says he can’t even begin to count the number of tournaments he has participated in.
Stroik, who plays any position on Forward, was invited to play on a New England team in last year’s Chowder Cup but was excited to become part of a local team this year. “Being on a team with people you know, it’s a lot more fun. After the tournament people were saying how fun it was to play at such a high pace.”
The Open Net Foundation was established by Chadds Ford, Pa resident Richard Roux, and board members Al Gallo and Mark Olazagasti in 2004 after Roux learned that his daughter Lindsay was diagnosed with Juvenile Arthritis.
Since then the Open Net Foundation has sponsored student-athletes in several events to fight childhood diseases and illnesses, and they have given to Nemours/A.I. DuPont Hospital, Autism Delaware, and other Delaware and local children related nonprofits.
Uniforms were donated by team sponsor Info Solutions, a local IT Management and Consulting company, and players covered their own travel expenses. Monies raised above the tournament fees all will be directed to the Arthritis Foundation.
This was Defenseman Nicholas Falkowski’s third appearance at the Chowder Cup. As the team’s top fundraiser, the rising Salesianum senior says the combined aspect of supporting Juvenile Arthritis made this year unique. “I really thought it was important because I have always loved playing hockey all my life, and to be able to play and fundraise really warmed my heart,” he said.
Falkowski says the hand-picked nature of this year’s roster was an added a bonus. “I’ve played on tournament teams (at the Chowder Cup) before. But this year most of us knew each other a little bit, so we had great chemistry. We all just clicked on the first day, winning against a pretty good team, and our success continued from there.”