Blake Gray has played dek or ball hockey since he was 4 years old.
Now, the 13-year-old will get a chance to represent the United States in the sport that he loves.
The Egg Harbor Township resident was selected in November to be part of Team USA’s 14-and-under dek hockey team that will play in the World Ball Hockey Championship later this year.
“It is just unreal,” Blake’s mother, Ruth, said. “I am super proud of him and the things that he has accomplished. It is such a good feeling knowing that he will be representing our country.”
The tournament will take place in Nitra, Slovakia, in June. Dek hockey is a form of street hockey that is played with a ball instead of a puck.
“This is a great accomplishment,” Blake said. “I am really proud of myself, and I thank my parents for taking me to all my tryouts.”
Blake plays with the EHT Phantoms, a youth street hockey team, and the Atlantic City Sharks Peewee A squad. The Sharks were the top 12-and-under ice hockey team in the state last year, capturing the New Jersey Youth Hockey League title.
Blake and four other kids from the Phantoms went to a U.S. team tryout in West Deptford in early October. He was called back for a second tryout in Dracut, Massachusetts, the last weekend in October.
Team USA, who competes in the U.S. Dek Hockey Federation, will feature its first ever 14-and-under team this summer. The national team only took 22 players among a field of 100 in this age group.
“I am excited,” Blake said. “I really cannot wait.”
Blake, an eighth-grade student at Fernwood Avenue Middle School, will soon have the privilege of wearing “USA” across his chest.
“He strives as hard as he can to do his best,” Ruth Gray said. “He puts in a lot of hard work at practice and at home.”
Team USA head coach Bill Almond said he was struck by how smart Blake is when he plays.
“He is not the biggest player in the world, but he moves the ball well and has the vision and the ability to see the play before it happens,” Almond said.
Almond dedicated much time putting together the best team possible, scouting out top youth athletes. The players that made the team are from Illinois, New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
“I was looking for a very specific skill set,” Almond said. “You need to find kids that are coachable, and I did not want any glory hounds. These kids are the best around, but they do not pat themselves on the back.”
Blake fits that description and then some, according to Almond.
“He is just a humble kid,” Ruth Gray said. “To have this success at a young age is beyond anything I could hope for him.”
Blake is an adamant fan of the Washington Capitals, his favorite player being their star left winger Alexander Ovechkin.
“I fully expect Blake to be a driving force on this team,” Almond said. “No matter what line he is on, he has the potential to be a leader.”
The tournament will feature 14U teams from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Switzerland and Sweden, but the full list of participating countries is not yet available.
“I am a little nervous,” Blake said. “But I play to have fun, and working as a team makes this a fun sport.”