The New Jersey high school hockey community is saying goodbye to a legend…officially.
This past spring and summer a revered institution behind the Brick Township bench — coach Bob Auriemma — was celebrated around the Shore for a life dedicated to our local game.
The Shore Conference Coaches Association honored the winningest coach in state history by naming their annual Senior Showcase event after Auriemma in April.
In August, Auriemma was tapped by the Asbury Park Press to coach at their 3rd Annual All-Star Hockey Classic in Middletown, where he was honored between periods as the recipient of the inaugural APP/New Jersey Devils Community Commitment Award.
With a multitude of Brick Township players past and present on hand that afternoon to see Auriemma honored with the accolade, it was a sentiment shared by another Dragons legend in Jim Dowd that put his former coach’s contributions to our community into perspective.
“To all the Shore Conference players competing in this game, and to all the Shore Conference hockey fans on hand here today, please understand, that without Coach Auriemma, there is no Shore Conference,” Dowd said.
Auriemma officially says goodbye
These well-attended events ultimately proved to be a sort of farewell tour for the iconic Auriemma, a send off that came to a close on Thursday, Sept. 14 at the Brick Township Board of Education meeting, where he officially retired after a 54-year tenure at the helm of the Dragons program.
“Ice hockey didn’t exist in in this area before him,” Brick Township High School Principal William Kleissler said that evening. “He has touched the lives of countless young men and women and the parents of those families…You will never be replaced, but there will be many people who will put their best foot forward to carry the tradition you founded forward.”
“That was a bit of a pincher for me,” said Auriemma of the emotions he felt upon stepping down that evning. “It was a real mix of emotions to finally make that official, but it was the right thing to do. It was time to give the other coaches a shot to develop their own styles and make their own mark. I’m happy about the decision. It worked out well for me, but most importantly the timing worked out well for the school, the program and the players.”
A resume` that reads like history book
His resume is beyond that of a Hall of Fame caliber coach…Though, that too is an honor he received in 2010 when the New Jersey High School Hockey Hall of Fame inducted him in their inaugural class, alongside Dowd — New Jersey’s all-time leading scorer with 375 career points — and the 1975-76 Brick Township club that went 22-1-1 and knocked off previously unbeaten Chatham by a 3-2 decision in over time to capture the first state hockey championship in NJSIAA history.
“He’s given so much to our community, and put in so much work throughout the years,” said Bobby Acropolis, a three-time All-State selection and a grandson of Auriemma who was recently announced a Class of 2018 New Jersey Hockey Hall of Fame inductee. “It wasn’t just with the high school team. He started the Learn to Skate programs for the younger kids at the Ocean Ice Palace. He helped build the Brick Hockey Club because he knew ultimately that it would benefit, not just the high school team, but local players in general.”
— Bruce Driver (@BruceDriver23) August 8, 2017
“It’s strange because he is this legendary figure, but to me he’s my grandfather…he’s Gramps,” Acropolis added. “He’s taught me so much beyond the game of hockey. He’s a tremendous person who showed me what it means to be hard-working, and a leader, and humble. He’s helped create leaders in our community; police officers, fire fighters, teachers and coaches. And he never expected any sort of congratulations, because to him he’s just doing what he loves…but he deserves every bit of it, and more.”
Auriemma would go on to help the Dragons secure six overall state titles, ahead of five more public state championships. Under his watch the program would also take eight Gordon Cup finals victories, and capture four Shore Conference crowns.
In total, Auriemma capped his storied career with a record of 719-363-102 for a winning-percentage of .650.