NEWARK – When he took to the ice, Bruce Driver spent a few moments to a youngster.
Driver was later visibly touched when another skater was ecstatic to see him, as Driver was his long-time idol.
It proved to be a night in which skills were plentiful, but fun and camaraderie dominated the night at the Prudential Center.
Driver was among a group of former players who participated in the third annual Special Hockey Day, an event in which more than 100 skaters with special needs and their families. The players represented six teams from the American Special Hockey Association along with a team from Special Olympics of New Jersey throughout Bergen, Essex, Mercer, Middlesex, Ocean, and Sussex counties.
Three sessions, each having two teams staying in their own ends, were an hour apiece. Along with skating and shooting on the net, skaters undertook the challenge of jumping over and skating around pylons scattered in their zone.
“For these kids with the disabilities that they have, this is fun night of hockey,” said Driver, who sported his number 23 jersey who wore for 12 of his 15 NHL seasons with the Devils. “This is great.
“We decided to move it onto this big ice. Most of these kids cheer for the Devils and what can be better to be on the same ice that your heroes are playing on.”
Jason Grasso of Woodbridge was nearly speechless when he saw Driver on the ice. Grasso, ironically being the same age (23) as Driver’s jersey, didn’t see Driver play in person, but has watched him on film.
“This is crazy,” said Grasso, who was emotional when asked about seeing Driver in person. “I am just so happy to be here.”
Driver, who is president of the Devils’ Alumni Association, envisions further involvement and development of other programs in the future.
“As alumni, this is something that we do want to get involved with,” added Driver. “This is a great opportunity for these kids and they compete against each other, too. They are not only friends, but they also know who they are playing against.”
Grant Marshall, who spent three seasons with the Devils during 14-year career and also work for the team’s alumni association, cherished his time with the players.
“This is really what it is all about,” said Marshall. “To put everything else aside and just see their faces is great. As big as New Jersey is, it is a small hockey world. We all want to come together.
“One boy asked me if my name was really Grant Marshall. I just had to laugh. I basically live in my car and drive all over with the alumni association. But something like this is well worth it.
“We’re all kids at heart. It is a true testament to the kids that they really want to learn and they are also having fun. The coaches deserve a lot of credit because they are teaching them the right way. There are no rules, and they are just going out and playing the game.”