‘Greatest game never played’

Nick Esposito

 Ties are the worst. Luckily, most of the players who have to ingest the terrible test of tying are given a chance for redemption, a chance to play again. 

In 1989 there was not only one New Jersey high school hockey champion, there were two.  The St. Joe’s (Montvale) Green Knights and the Delbarton Green Wave were head and shoulders above the rest of their competition and were on a collision course to meet in the state finals.  

After they both won their respective semi-final games, the stage was set for the highly anticipated title game. But during the week leading up to the big game there was an outbreak of the measles on Delbarton’s campus.  The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association decided that it would be best to cancel the game and dubbed the two hockey powerhouses co-champions.  

It was a time in which high school hockey was not grabbing the top headlines in the morning paper, and no one was talking about it on the Internet…because there was no Internet.  The outcry over the canceled game was minimal, and people went about their weeks as if nothing happened. But those 46 hockey players were left in turmoil, left never knowing if they could have lived their dream.  And 21 years later they decided to do something about it.  

For the 20th anniversary, one of Delbarton’s captains, Mike Pendy was interviewed about the game that never was, and said: “Maybe we could get all these guys together 20 years later, lace up the skates somewhere and play that game.” Pendy was simply kidding, but the public ran with it and the papers began rounding up all of the players from 1989.  

When it was all said and done they were able to bring 40 out of the 46 players back to the Garden State to settle this once and for all.

But the men who returned were not the men who left all of those years ago. Some were accountants, while others were doctors and bartenders.  However, two players, Kenny Blum of St. Joe’s and Delbarton’s Derek Maguire, were both taken in the ninth round of the 1989 NHL Draft. Blum went to the Minnesota North Stars while Maguire got selected by the Montreal Canadiens. Except for those two, most of the players were no longer in shape, and only a few of them still had equipment that fit them.   

Despite the two-decade layoff, the players went out to the pro-shops and bought new pads, sharpened their skates and taped their sticks because they had some unfinished business to take care of.  Adding to their incentive to return to the ice, the players thought that they could do a lot of good by making it a charity event. One of the players suggested that the proceeds ought to go to cancer-related charities, including the NHL’S Hockey Fights Cancer initiative. Many of the players have had experiences with family members and cancer and thought that it was the right thing to do.  

The two teams flirted with the idea of playing the game at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., home to the NHL’s New Jersey Devils, but then decided to hold the game at Mennen Arena in northern New Jersey.  Mennen Arena was the location that was originally the set location for the missed event in 1989.  

The night had finally arrived. Twenty-one years of pent up aggression was about to explode on a single sheet of ice between a bunch of old men. Approximately 2,500 fans and tons of reporters, including ABC, CBS, NBC and even The Wall Street Journal, packed the small arena to see this game finally be played.  

The event raised over $200,000 for charity, and young cancer victims dropped the ceremonial opening draw. Governor Chris Christie was on hand with his family to commemorate the event.  

The spectacle that they had created was a small matter to the game itself.  The Green Knights dominated the contest early but had no goals to show for it.  The Wave answered at the end of the first period by poking in three goals past the goalie.  

St. Joe’s refused to quit and scored two goals in the third.  The Wave, however, surged at the end of the game to stave off the St. Joe’s comeback to take the game, the title and the 21 years of history.

After all of the work, anxiety, wondering and practicing, the players realized that this game was not about who won. They had changed since they were younger.  Their definition of winning had changed as well. 

And suddenly they realized that being able to play the game they loved in front of the people they loved was a victory and definitely worth the wait. 

For New Jersey hockey, the game will always remain the “greatest game never played,” but now those players got to relive their glory years in front of their families and finally play this game that had been frozen in time.  


Nick Esposito is a junior communication major from Skillman, N.J.  He can be reached at [email protected].