“When hell freezes over, I’ll play hockey there too” would best describe the Ice Crew members of the New Jersey Devils. Despite not making it into the big leagues, they find the time to play the sport they love for fun and, albeit, some glory. Mitchell Donato, Robert Pietz and Charles Hood, three members of the Ice Crew for the Devils, were able to speak about their work on the team and their involvement of the sport outside of work.
From working the ice for the Devils to playing for fun during downtime with their roller hockey team the “Nuns”, the crew has found a way to play the sport they love. Most people stop playing sports at a young age.
This is what makes their story relatable. Even if an athlete does not have the talent to make it big, there are plenty of opportunities to play.
Before thinking that they get to have fun with Devils players, the only interaction they get is head nods and hellos as they come onto the ice and the players leave. They, however, admire the opportunity to get that close. Donato’s role on the Devils is to maintain the ice, meaning he keeps it skate-able. Donato was asked what he thought is the hardest part about this dream job.
“I guess, the drive to Newark.” He laughed. The most rewarding part for him would be being able to see a team he grew up watching from childhood. Although he isn’t seeing the same 2003 championship team, it will do. Donato lives in Little Falls. His second job is working as a mechanic for Snap-On.
Robert Pietz lives in Carlstadt and works in retail at Pure Hockey in Fairfield, which shows how much he loves hockey. For the Devils, he shovels the ice during commercial breaks to keep it a smooth surface. Occasionally he drives the zamboni. The hardest part of the job for him is keeping everything up to par every game. To maintain the ice and keep it at high standards every time.
“The most rewarding part is being paid to watch the sport I love and the people I met.” says Pietz.
To describe an everyday’s work, Donato and Pietz begin by drawing out the lines of the rink and then placing the goals in position. At every opportunity, whether its a timeout or in between periods, they sweep the ice. The ice gets placed in a trash can. This process can be repeated for as much as ten times. Sometimes one of them will drive the zamboni in between periods.
Donato began his interest in hockey at a young age. With the success of the Devils in the early 2000s, winning the Stanley Cup in 2000 and 2003, hockey was always on in his household. He began playing around ten years old and then played on Varsity at Passaic Valley Regional High-school. Pietz began his hockey journey at nine years old. His mother said he spent too much time in the house and needed to get out.
“I chose hockey because my cousins played it and now I’m better than they are,” Pietz quips in a serious tone.
Charles Hood is their coworker on the Ice Crew. To him the hardest part of the job is timing. Everything is done in ninety seconds or less. Charles thinks bumping into his coworkers is the hardest part of the job because everyone is frantically moving around to finish. When asked what he values the most as being part of the crew Charles answers, “There’s no greater thrill than being part of the event staff during a sold out playoff game where the building’s energy is amped up to another level.”
The “Fun with Nuns” or just “Nuns” is a roller hockey team created by Donato and his childhood friends Ryan Pavelchak and C.K, as they call him, in 2016. They do not work with him on the Ice Crew. There is no reason as to why the team is called the Nuns. Donato says it was out of the blue. Pietz joined the team after meeting Donato on the Ice Crew the following year.
“The fact that all my best friends are on the same hockey team I cannot think of anything better,” says Pietz about his favorite aspect of the team. Pietz plays forward for the team and Donato plays defenseman.
“My favorite aspect of the team is the brotherhood,” answers Donato, similarly to Pietz.
The team plays at the Inman Hockey Club in Edison as part of the E-League.
“It is the lowest league, but it is the most universal,” says Pietz, “because every team has a few sick players and a few lesser players.”
The league features eighteen teams. Donato believes that their rival is the Predators because every game against them gets “chippy” as he puts it. Pietz agree with this, but also added that the Blue Demons were also a rivalry because they have a player they nicknamed Aaron Judge who likes to “baseball swing at ankles” as Pietz puts it. Other teams, not necessarily rivals, include the Bandits, the Christ Punchers (yes that is a name of one of the teams).
“That’s not a rivalry that is more of a brotherhood,” answers Pietz.
When asked what he thinks of the Nuns and the opportunities it brings Donato answers,
“It’s a new way to learn the game of hockey as well as experienced players to play and learn the game of hockey.”
This aspect of the team should draw attention from all levels of hockey. Those who are experienced have an opportunity to play the sport they love and those who have an interest can join as well. People have the opportunity to play with their friends in the sport they love. Hockey is not the only sport that has an adult league for amateurs. Almost all sports have leagues and teams of their own. It is never too late to create or join a league with a couple of friends in any sport, whether it’s frisbee or flag football, and enjoy yourself. It is reminiscent of the time of pre-teen and teenage years playing sports in middle or high school. There is no pressure of winning other than satisfaction. It’s all for fun.