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Ice hockey: Verona native plays in North American Hockey League

AUGUST 30, 2014    LAST UPDATED: SATURDAY, AUGUST 30, 2014, 8:18 AM

Verona resident Dylan DeCandia, like most hockey players who just graduated high school, isn't ready for college.

Verona native Dylan DeCandia, shown here this past season, is attempting to make the Keystone Ice Miners of the North American Hockey League.
Verona native Dylan DeCandia, shown here this past season, is attempting to make the Keystone Ice Miners of the North American Hockey League.

It's not that DeCandia is worried about the academic challenge, or even the financial hardship.

Instead it's because most college hockey freshmen don't begin their careers until they are 20, first opting for some of the amateur leagues throughout the United States and Canada.

"There's not too many 18-year-old freshmen anymore," Verona-Glen Ridge Head Coach Ken Lilien explained to the Times.

Instead of heading to college, DeCandia has joined the Keystone Ice Miners, a team located in Pennsylvania that plays in the North American Hockey League.

"I was really excited. A little surprised, but really excited," he described the feeling upon hearing he had made the team.

The work isn't over yet for DeCandia, the Ice Miners currently have 31 players on the training camp roster and must cut that number down to 23 by Oct. 1.

While DeCandia was a standout forward for the Hillbillies this past winter, scoring 51 goals, he is naturally a defensemen, and will take up the position in the NAHL.

Lilien explained that he never asked DeCandia to focus on defense when playing for VGR, but in practices he could see the talent the Verona native has.

"To be honest with you, in hockey defensemen are the better players," the coach said. "They usually end up at the level where he is trying to get to."

Lilien pointed to the NHL, where every team that competes for the Stanley Cup has a defensive player who is not only responsible in his own zone, but also able to carry the puck up the ice and join the attack.

When the Times spoke with DeCandia prior to the start of training camp - which kicked off Aug. 24 - he seemed focused on remembering this journey.

"I still have to work really hard," he said. "I'm not going to, just because I made the team, stop working."

Most players play in the NAHL for one to three years, giving them ample opportunity to grow physically.

The players are not paid by their teams because they would then lose their college eligibility.

However, DeCandia said most everything around the team is free to the players besides housing.

Joining DeCandia on the Ice Miners will be another local prospect, Montclair Kimberly Academy's Rob Jaworski, a Nutley native.

While playing for the team - which usually has games Thursday, Friday and Saturday - DeCandia said he will be taking two college courses online.

Lilien said the Verona native's dedication to the game makes him a reasonable bet to play in college.

"I think he has a tremendous chance," the VGR coach said. "I think he's doing the right thing by taking his shot now."

Email: leyden@northjersey.com

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