For the past half century, Mike Reynolds has spent most of his adult life on thin ice, albeit a skating rink.
This spring the legendary New Jersey high school hockey coach will be inducted into the New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Hall of Fame for his illustrious coaching career. Reynolds is humbled by the honor and he hopes he doesn’t have a game conflict that day.
The award is a tribute to the successful high school coach – his outstanding record plus the fact literally hundreds and hundreds of New Jersey hockey players have gotten their start under his tutelage.
Reynolds is particularly proud of and smiles when the name James van Riemsdyk is brought up. Reynolds remembers seeing something special in the Middletown native as a 3-year-old.
“When kids that age practice, all they can think of is getting off the ice and getting a hot chocolate,” Reynolds says. “Not van Riemsdyk; he skated to the end and then wanted more.”
Reynolds remembers van Riemsdyk’s strong skating and stickhandling skills well beyond his years for a preteen that made him stand out from his peers.
The results show. Van Riemsdyk played for Reynolds for two years at Christian Brothers Academy before moving on to the U.S. National Team, the University of New Hampshire and then in 2007 being drafted second overall by the National Hockey League. He is a member of the U.S. Men’s Olympic Hockey Team for the Sochi games in Russia next month and is a star for the Toronto Maple Leafs of the NHL.
Van Riemsdyk was recently featured in HBO’s series “24/7” leading up to the Leafs – Detroit Red Wings NHL outdoor Winter Classic game Jan. 1, part of which was filmed on the Navesink Country Club (NCC) ice with Reynolds over the Christmas holiday.
“Outdoor hockey has made a tremendous comeback,” Reynolds says, “and has given the game a boost.”
The coach, who retired from CBA in 2005, manages the Navesink Country Club’s outdoor rink that overlooks the Navesink River from a picturesque setting in Middletown. From mid-November until early March, Reynolds is on the ice every day teaching, coaching, officiating and doing what he loves best – seeing the world from two blades.
The Rhode Island native was a hockey player from shortly after he learned to walk. His dad, 92, played minor league hockey, organized the R.I. hockey officials association in 1948 so Reynolds found himself on skates and playing hockey on ponds and rinks from an early age.
“My dad actually ran an outdoor rink in Providence called The Ice Bowl more than 50 years ago, doing many of the same things I do now. Like father, like son,” says Reynolds. “My dad reluctantly stopped skating at 87, but he still plays golf.”
Reynolds played college hockey at Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass., where in four years he recorded 113 goals and scored 224 points for the Warriors and is a member of the school’s athletic hall of fame.
Post-Merrimack, Reynolds coached hockey but missed his playing days and went to Sweden with his new wife to play and coach the Stocksund team in the early 1980s. After two years, his wife, Sharlene, a Jersey girl, said it was time to go home. The pair settled in New Jersey and Reynolds began his coaching-teaching career in the Toms River area.
Reynolds took the reins of the CBA hockey team in 1992 and the record speaks for itself. During his 16-year career at CBA, Reynolds coached the team to 319 wins, four state titles and multiple years of Star Ledger top 20 rankings. Reynolds was named the Star Ledger’s hockey coach of the decade for the 1990s. Some of CBA’s games with North Jersey hockey powerhouse Delbarton are legendary and one of Reynolds’ best was his 2005 CBA team that topped Delbarton 2-1 in overtime.
Navesink Country Club is one of a handful of private clubs in New Jersey that has a rink for members’ use and club and league hockey. Reynolds teaches children as young as 3 hockey basics; trains and coaches preteens and teens; and works with adults – some 40 and older – who have just taken up the sport.
“We play most of our games at home on our outdoor rink, which is terrific,” Reynolds says with a smile.
The new focus on outdoor rinks – harkening to the way ice hockey started – is all the rage and fueled by professional and college hockey teams playing games at outdoor arenas.
The Jan. 1 National Hockey League Winter Classic between two of the league’s original teams – the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings – was played at the University of Michigan football stadium in Ann Arbor before a record-setting crowd of 105,491. Some 8 million fans watched on television.
Reynolds says another reason hockey is gaining in popularity among young athletes is its “physicality.” Kids like the speed, quickness, puck handling and contact. Although always popular in New Jersey, the sport continues to gain new participants and fans nationwide.
“You know more kids are finding lacrosse instead of baseball in the warm weather, too, for the same reasons. Kids want a lot of action,” he says.
Young hockey players get all the training and conditioning Reynolds perfected coaching high school, college and pro teams. All his Navesink Country Club youth and adult teams play games against area teams all through the winter. As many as four games can be played on the country club’s rink on a Saturday and the rink is lit for night practices and skating events.
Reynolds also invites college club teams to play on the Navesink Country Club ice and his protégés have been fortunate to see club teams from Villanova, Rutgers, Monmouth, Rowan and other area colleges show their skills on the outdoor venue and interact with his Navesink skaters.
The rink, some 50 years old, is nearly regulation size, Reynolds explains, and he has a small staff that helps him maintain the ice and the facility. Just like the pros, the club has its own rink finishing Zamboni.
Hockey is a 12-month labor of love for Reynolds, who also holds clinics for young, would-be hockey players, through high school-age skaters at the Wall Arena off-season and has done so for four decades.
He picked up the love of golf from his dad for the warmer months and he manages to get in lots of rounds during the good weather.
But for the man who wears skates more than he wears shoes, there is still plenty of cold weather left this winter and for that, his young and not-so-young skaters at Navesink Country Club are pleased.