Two moments stand out when Joe Tropp thinks about his recently concluded high school ice hockey season. Joe, a Teaneck sophomore at the Frisch School in Paramus, was assistant captain of his school’s team, the Cougars.
The first moment came on January 31. Frisch was playing Old Tappan. The score was 6 to 5. Frisch was behind.
And then, with 13 seconds left, the Cougars scored a goal and tied the game.
“We went up against a very good team we were not supposed to win against,” he said. “We managed to not give up even when we were down, and we tied it up.”
The second moment took place off the ice, when the team learned that it had made it into the finals of the non-public division of the NJ State Interscholastic Athletic Association on the strength of its season’s record of 6 wins, 4 losses, and 2 ties.
Not bad for a team in its first year.
“All season we tried to prove ourselves and the fact we actually got some recognition from the public really felt good,” Joe said.
“Hearing that news was just awesome,” Evan Fromen of Englewood said. “We were a yeshiva with a team put together from scratch.”
Ice hockey is not the first sport that comes to mind when you think of yeshiva teams. It’s not that Jews and ice are inherent enemies — didn’t the lakes and rivers freeze back in Anatevka? — but basketball and wrestling are much more suited for a high school gymnasium.
The boy’s ice hockey team put the roster of Frisch’s sports teams, for both boys and girls, at 26, and it is one of the school’s few teams that competes outside of the yeshiva league that pits the Jewish high schools of the metropolitan New York region against each other in regular matches and annual tournaments. A couple of other local yeshiva high schools have hockey clubs — among them, the Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck— but they don’t field competitive teams.
“It all came about because of the dedication of four parents,” said Aron Coren, Frisch’s athletic director. “They saw a need. We didn’t have an ice hockey program and they really wanted to start one for their kids.”
It began last year as a club before becoming a team this year.
“It’s amazing what the ice hockey program does, because it’s so hard to find ice time,” he said.
The team mostly practices at the rink in Englewood’s MacKay park. It meets up to three times a week — once during the week, and on Saturday and Sunday nights when there are no games on the schedule. “They really are dedicated and put in so much effort,” Mr. Coren said. “They’re playing against kids who practice five times a week.”
The impetus for the team really came from the players, according to the team’s coach, Ralph Abecassis of Englewood. His son, Aaron, a junior, is one of the team’s captains. “The kids wanted to do it. We kind of took it from there,” he said.
The seeds of the team were planted five or six years ago, he said, when Aaron and several of his friends played at the Englewood Field Club. “There were so many Jewish kids signing up that they switched the Saturday games to Saturday night,” after Shabbat ended, he said.
“These kids have been playing for so many years, the question was, why does it have to go to waste after eighth grade? We parents looked at each other and said, why don’t we try doing something?”
From there to a first-year tournament — pretty impressive, even if Frisch lost in the first round to Saint Joseph Regional High School in Montvale with a non-competitive score of 11 to 1.
“What you have to realize is since we’re a non-public school we have to play in a non-public division,” Mr. Abecassis said. “You’re playing against the powerhouses,” schools that recruit based on their athletic programs.
Frisch, too, now is recruiting students on the strength of its hockey team, at least in a small way. For hockey players, Frisch, as the only yeshiva high school with a team, has become the school of choice.
But what makes ice hockey so compelling that teenagers are willing to practice late at night, whenever the team can get precious access to the ice?
“The sport itself is awesome,” Evan said. “It takes so much out of you. After a 45-second shift already you’re out of breath. You have to constantly rotate players. It’s a very fast pace. Everyone gets more time in the game because players are so tired.”
The rotation means that even those of the 28 members of the team who were new to the sport got a chance to compete.
“Every moment counts,” Evan said. “Our shifts are a lot faster” than in other sports. “Even professionals have short shifts.”
Why is playing on ice more tiring than playing on a wooden gymnasium floor?
“I’ve never really understood that myself,” Evan said.
Joe said he was thrilled with the opportunity Frisch gave him to play ice hockey in a Jewish environment.”
“I started playing hockey when I was four years old. I played hockey for a few years in the Ice House in Hackensack. Then I was told that I couldn’t play on the good team because I was Jewish and couldn’t play on Saturday. I had to go around from league to league and find the teams that accept me and let me play on Sundays but not Saturday. It’s been hard. Frisch gave me the opportunity.”
But despite its relative success, the Frisch ice hockey team hasn’t made a true believer of Mr. Coren, the athletic director.
“I tried it once,” he said. “It took me too long to get dressed. There’s a tremendous amount of equipment you have to put on.”