By Scott Kinville/315 Hockey
It started with a friendly invite and ended with friendships that will last a lifetime.
Barry Shelley, the founder of the Rink of Dreams Facebook group, which has over 2,000 members, is an ardent fan and historian of minor league hockey. His passion for the game led him to convert his attic into a proverbial minor-league hockey museum he calls the Rink of Dreams, and it is filled with artifacts, books, programs, and memorabilia from not only North America but all over the world. Those who have visited or know of Shelley’s Rink of Dreams consider it to be the Minor League Hockey Hall of Fame.
For Barry Shelley, his enthusiasm for minor league hockey does not stop with Facebook or his museum. Every summer, he hosts the Rink of Dreams reunion at his home, which attracts former players, officials, and personalities from all over the United States and Canada. In February 2021, he organized the Rink of Dreams Classic, an outdoor hockey game played at Badger Park Skating Rink in Cooperstown, NY. This game was played between members of the Rink of Dreams group and even had a Hollywood theme, as Team Slapshot was captained by James Bolen, and Team Youngblood was led by George Finn. Bolen played a goaltender in the iconic Slapshot, and Finn portrayed the legendary Carl Racki in Youngblood – a favorite of hockey fans from the 1980s and beyond.
The following year, Shelley planned on having a team from the New York City Fire and Police Departments come up to play in the game, but the Covid pandemic nixed those plans. While watching an episode of The True Grit Podcast hosted by former NHL defenseman Tom Laidlaw, he was intrigued by the interview Laidlaw was conducting with Mark Puttenvink. Puttenvink is the former strength and conditioning coach for the New York Rangers, New Jersey Devils, and Albany River Rats and now serves as the President of the New Jersey Warriors. The best description of the New Jersey Warriors comes from their website and is as follows:
The New Jersey Warriors hockey program is a non-profit, volunteer-run program, affiliated with the NJ Devils, created to give our disabled US Military Veterans an opportunity to rehab through the exciting world of Ice Hockey.
We strive to provide a safe and welcoming outlet for disabled servicemen and servicewomen to connect with one another, challenge themselves and each other, and remind them that there’s still nothing they can’t do. Veterans from New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania are able to join our team as a way to connect, bond, and use this experience as a therapeutic way to physically rehab and manage stresses from their military experiences.
Our home ice is the Prudential Center in Newark NJ but you’ll find the NJ Warriors playing in regional matchups and national tournaments, representing our New Jersey roots wherever we go. We are supported by USA Hockey, the NHL NJ Devils, and an incredibly generous group of corporate and community partners.
The New Jersey Warriors are a 501c3 non-profit organization and we rely on your help, via donations, to accomplish our goals. To learn more about why we need you and how you can help, CLICK HERE.
That’s when the founder of the Rink of Dreams had an idea. “I wrote during the show that I would love to have their team up, and Mark (Puttenvink) responded they would love to come up someday. Ted (Ted Curtin serves as the Executive VP of the Warriors) came to the reunion this past summer, and I told him I would love to have them up. In October, Ted messaged me and said the board approved the team to come up, and we started planning from that time forward”.
From there, Barry Shelley went to work. The game was set to take place on Saturday, February 18th, 2023, and Shelley wanted to make sure the New Jersey Warriors had the best weekend possible. He first organized a team of local hockey players to play the Warriors and then set about securing hotel accommodations at the local Holiday Inn. He also organized a welcome dinner for the visitors from New Jersey at the Cooperstown American Legion hall. This would be no ordinary welcome dinner as Shelley also incorporated a Chinese auction into it to raise money for the Warriors program. Barry’s herculean efforts to secure items to be auctioned off led to many of the businesses in the Cooperstown area donating items, as well as the area’s two AHL teams, the Syracuse Crunch and Utica Comets.
He even ordered special jerseys for the players to wear on the day of the game, and to top the weekend off, Shelley arranged for the Warriors to attend the Utica Comets vs Syracuse Crunch game taking place on Saturday night at the Adirondack Bank Center in Utica.
Click on the link for the episode of 315 Hockey Live featuring Barry Shelley, Mark Puttenvink, and Ted Curtin: https://www.youtube.com/live/ZqhklqY0Ark?feature=share
The weeks passed since the big announcement in October, and the excitement built up more and more each day. Then a potential disaster loomed over the event as, during the week of the big game, an unusually warm spell with temperatures in the 60s descended on Central New York. By mid-week, the heat had damaged the ice at Badger Park to the point where village officials closed the rink to skating due to safety concerns.
Despite the ice hockey game being called off, the Warriors stayed true to their word and arrived in Cooperstown on Friday afternoon. The welcome dinner was a success and raised over $1000 for the Warriors program. A busy Saturday awaited the Warriors and Rink of Dreams members alike.
The Warriors took part in a Saturday morning tour of the Baseball Hall of Fame, and at one o’clock, their team bus arrived Badger Park. Although a game of ice hockey was out of the question, the paved parking lot provided a venue for a game of street hockey – which is exactly what the players decided to do. Before the start of the game, a special opening faceoff was held with a puck commemorating the memory of Matt Madill, the son of former Utica Devil Jeff Madill. The Warriors then led the players in the twenty-two pushups they do before every practice and game in memory of veterans lost to suicide.
The game itself consisted of several rounds of a shootout between the Warriors and Rink of Dreams members that featured snipes, saves, and dangles from both sides. After the shootout was over, the teams squared off in a scrimmage-style game, complete with former CHL and IHL linesman Billy Hunt officiating the action. When the final goal was scored in the game, everyone picked up and prepared to head to the Adirondack Bank Center to continue the fun.
The Utica Police Department led the Warriors team bus from the city line right to the entrance of the Adirondack Bank Center. Wearing their new style jerseys for the first time, the Warriors were recognized throughout the game between the Comets and Crunch. Between the first and second periods, they were in the tunnel to fist-pump the Comets players as they took the ice. Afterward, Comets in-game host Brennan Miller spotlighted the team for the capacity crowd. After the game ended, the Warriors assembled on the ice for a team picture.
The New Jersey Warriors boarded their bus on Sunday and headed home, but they left a lasting impression on the Rink of Dreams, the Cooperstown community, and hockey fans across Central New York. To learn more about the organization or to make a donation, visit https://njwarriors.org.