MIDDLETOWN — Not so long ago Ryan Bogan Jr. and Ryan Rowland were on opposite sides of a heated peewee hockey rivalry, throwing the body — and a few verbal daggers — for their respective clubs.
“Honestly, coming into this season, we really weren’t too close, because when we were younger I skated for the [New Jersey Jr. Titans] and he was with the [Devils Youth Hockey], and there was a lot of tension there to say the least,” Rowland said.
“He really wasn’t too fond of me back then, and I definitely earned that,” Bogan added with a grin during a recent interview at Middletown Ice World.
Admittedly, the pair of Ocean County natives and former combatants are more than a bit shocked their separate journeys up the developmental ladder allowed their paths to intersect at the next level, but on Saturday, Oct. 20 the defensive duo made their way back to the Jersey Shore as North American Hockey League (NAHL) teammates with the Northeast Generals.
“I think we say it at least once a day, just how crazy it really is that two guys who lived so close together, but never actually played together before, ended up together on the same [NAHL] team,” Bogan said.
Making their way to the NAHL
Their routes to the NAHL were different in every way.
Rowland — a Manahawkin resident — skated for three seasons on the Southern Regional blue line, notching 46 career points on 22 goals and 24 assists, and helping to lift the program to its first ever division championship with a Class A South crown in the 2014-15 season.
His junior year was Rowland’s final campaign at the scholastic level, as he entered the junior hockey ranks with the Philadelphia Revolution (EHL) in 2015-16, and closing out his tenure last season with 46 points in 87 total games. Rowland would ultimately be invited to the Generals main camp this past summer, and earned his place with the Attleboro, MA franchise.
Bogan — a Brick Township denizen — opted for four years of varsity hockey at CBA, and led the Colts on a run that included three consecutive NJSIAA Non-Public finals appearance (2014-2016), back-to-back state championship victories (2014, 2015) and a pair of Gordon Cup titles (2013, 2016). The defenseman also departed from the Lincroft club as the program’s all-time leading point producer with 172 on 39 goals and 133 assists.
At the midget hockey level Bogan was a USPHL standout with the New Jersey Hitman (2014-2016), before joining a revered North Jersey Avalanche 18U program a season ago, which led the Generals to select the pivot sixth overall in that summer’s NAHL Draft.
“Never in a million years did I think I’d be brothers with this kid later down the line, rooming together with him and chasing a dream together,” Rowland said. “We were rivals, we definitely took different paths to get to this point, but we’re here now and we’re here together. We feel that camaraderie because we are representing our home at the [New Jersey] Shore. And that drives us.”
Part of Something Special at the Shore
The pair of locals aren’t the only Shore natives to have found a home in the NAHL, as they’ve seen several familiar faces while traveling within their own Eastern Division, including Matt Kidney and Mike Gelatt — a pair of St. John Vianney alumni who are now with the Wilkes-Barre scranton Knights — and a slew of New Jersey Titans in Gavin Gulash (Middletown South), Jimmy Dowd Jr. (Point Pleasant Beach, NJ) and Eric Manoukian (Manalapan, NJ), not to mention non-divisional skaters like Zach Noble (Toms River East) of the Aberdeen Wings, Kyle Hallbauer (Howell High School) of the Lone Star Brahmas, Shane Haviland (Wall Township High School) of the Springfield Jr. Blues and Derek Contessa (CBA) of the Shreveport Mudbugs.
It’s a point of pride for Bogan and Rowland to be part of this skilled Monmouth and Ocean County collective, and a responsibility they shoulder to represent well on the national stage.
“To see us all out here competing at the next level, the fact that they have an NAHL franchise here [in Middletown], I think it says a lot about how much the game has grown around here in just the last few years,” said Rowland, who has a +5 rating in 18 games played this season.
“I definitely feel like I’m part of something special taking place here at the Shore and in New Jersey as a whole,” added Bogan, who has registered a goal and seven assists in 17 games for the Generals. “Just the outlook on the game and the different routes you can take, it’s all growing around here. New Jersey is becoming a huge breeding ground for college hockey players, and we’re pumped to be a part of it…and hopefully soon we’ll be able to call ourselves college players.”
Bogan, Rowland and the Northeast Generals currently sit atop the Eastern Division with a record of 12-6-0, and are scheduled to return to Middletown for a two-game weekend series with the Titans on Nov. 24 and 25.