7th Annual Challenger Winter Classic outdoor game set for Feb. 4

The Brick Stars Challenger hockey program is eager for its return to Avon Pond in Avon-by-the-Sea for its traditional outdoor game against a team of military veterans.

The puck will drop on the 7th Annual Challenger Winter Classic on Feb. 4 at noon. The Brick Stars will once again face off against USA Warriors Ice Hockey in their most highly anticipated matchup each year.

“Our kids ask at the first practice, ‘When are we playing the Warriors?’ ” Alex DePalma, founder and director of the Brick Stars program, said in a prepared statement.

The Brick Stars program was founded by DePalma in 2009 and teaches skating and hockey skills to children and young adults with developmental disabilities throughout Monmouth and Ocean counties.

Michael Garguilo of Hazlet and Michael Mayhew of Middletown are two of the players slated to suit up for the Brick Stars. Mayhew’s father, Mike, is a coach with the team.

“I have to make sure that’s the first game I have booked,” Brick Stars team manager Dina Crepaldi said in a prepared statement. “The players love the excitement of the day, playing outdoors. They understand what the Warriors have done for them.”

USA Warriors Ice Hockey provides recreational and therapeutic experiences for veterans who were wounded or disabled while serving in the military. The program is based in Laurel, Maryland.

Army Cpl. John Laursen (Ret.) from Brick is a goalie for the Warriors and used to play for DePalma. He proposed the first game against the Brick Stars.

“The whole team wanted to come,” Laursen said in a prepared statement. “There wasn’t enough room for all of them. It’s been the same every year. We love seeing these guys grow and develop.”

Admission to the Challenger Winter Classic is a free-will donation to the Brick Stars program. A portion of these donations will be used to help the Brick Stars travel team attend its first USA Hockey Disabled Hockey Festival in Illinois.

New Jersey Devils alumni and the team’s mascot will participate at the event, which will also host a military honor guard and a silent auction that includes signed sports memorabilia.

“Everyone leaves this game with a big smile,” DePalma said in a prepared statement. “It’s a great chance to tell veterans how much you appreciate their sacrifice and to cheer on some very determined Brick Stars players.”

For more information on the Brick Stars program, contact alexdepalma@comcast.net or dinac01@aol.com or visit brickstarshockey.webs.com.

More information on the USA Warriors Ice Hockey program can be found at usawarriors.org.