On a cold Dec. 28 night, 8-year-old Nick Timek, of Brigantine, put on padding, grabbed his hockey stick and played a classic game of street hockey with his Brigantine Hockey League team.

However, exactly two months before the penguin-division player stepped onto the asphalt rink for the fifth game of the season, Hurricane Sandy devastated his hometown - leaving many to wonder if the program, which began in the 1970s, would continue this year.

For the league's executive board and line of coaches, canceling was never an option, regardless of the difficulties they would face, they said.

"People don't realize, it's a monumental task getting this league going," Nick Pontillo, the league's vice president, said. "We sat here, our houses all in shambles, (saying,) 'What are we going to do about hockey this year?'"

With at least 90 percent of the league having been affected by the storm, preparing a sufficient roster and gathering enough equipment seemed unfeasible. But, with the children and young teens - ages 4 to 15 - in mind, the coaches couldn't help but make an effort.

"You can't lose all those kids that want to play," president of the league, Paul Kabala, said. "You can't deny a kid to play hockey, because they love to come down here and play hockey."

The current 200-member league only had 40 kids sign up by the end of October, Pontillo added. It was not until the coaches went door-to-door and instituted an online registration option that the post-Sandy roster substantiated.

The surrounding community also gave aid. Kabala accepted equipment donations from Linwood and Egg Harbor Township street hockey teams to get started.

Since 1993, the BHL has played hockey six days per week at their latest location on 4200 Bayshore Ave. When street hockey in Brigantine began more than 40 years ago, 26th Street was their home.

Kabala joined once his eldest son, Paul Jr., 19, got involved. Now, his other children, Brett, 14 and Justin, 9, all actively play a role, increasing Kabala's interest.

"I try and do more and more for the kids every year," he said.

Four years ago, the league began hosting its own seven-day tournament, a big feat for a small shore town. By the weekend games, about 1,000 people would crowd around Brigantine's two courts, Kabala said.

"Everyone likes coming here. We get tons of phone calls. It's laid back," Pontillo said.

After the hurricane, the 14- to 16-hour days required of the coaches, as well as the expenses involved, caused the coaches to veto this year's tournament.

"You have so many people who are still dealing with the aftermath of the hurricane. It's a whole week commitment," coach Chris Howe said.

However, plans to play in Linwood's February tournament don't seem out of reach for the league, which has three divisions and one instructional team.

This year, the league will play 12 interleague games until the end of January. By the end of season, the league's traveling team, The Hurricanes, will decide if they will participate in more tournaments - leaving it up to the players and their families, Kabala said.

Regardless of their future, the league is still working to get back on track. An end-of-the-year banquet is in the works, and games are in full effect, bringing out devoted parents on freezing nights and competitive coaches screaming from the bench.

On a recent night, the Champion team were down to Mase Black. But, Makayla Flickinger, 9, just one of a few girls in the league, loved representing her team and gender.

"It looked kind of fun, and I thought I could kick some boys' butts," she said, all smiles behind the cage of her mask.

The league, which the coaches consider a second full-time job, continues to provide an opportunity for the men to be with their children, teaching them the skill and good sportsmanship involved in the sport.

"By the end of the season, our goal has been, as long as every kid on your team improves, then you accomplished something," Howe said.

"(They have to) forget who (they) are as an individual and play as a team unit," Pontillo agreed. "Once they start doing that, that's when it kind of all comes together. It's pretty cool."

No matter the outcome of the game, the coaches encourage a friendly atmosphere, but the league seems to not to have a problem with it.

"I try to tell (them all), 'You win as a team, you lose as a team,'" Kabala said.

Contact Caitlin Honan:


How to help

For more information about donating to the Brigantine Hockey League, email kabalapaul@yahoo.com.

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