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Special Needs Hockey Team Enjoys Hackensack Home

The NJ Avalanche is comprised of developmentally delayed Bergen and Passaic kids and teens.
The NJ Avalanche is comprised of developmentally delayed Bergen and Passaic kids and teens. Photo Credit: Anthony Locicero
Volunteer Justin Italiano of Rutherford helps a member of the NJ Avalanche learn to balance and skate.
Volunteer Justin Italiano of Rutherford helps a member of the NJ Avalanche learn to balance and skate. Photo Credit: Anthony Locicero
Tyler Waldeck of Franklin Lakes shoots on net.
Tyler Waldeck of Franklin Lakes shoots on net. Photo Credit: Anthony Locicero
Reese Citro of Pompton Lakes unleashes a slap shot.
Reese Citro of Pompton Lakes unleashes a slap shot. Photo Credit: Anthony Locicero

HACKENSACK, N.J. – Reese Citro was athletic, but the developmentally delayed Pompton Lakes youngster's inability to socialize and follow direction "made it really challenging” to play hockey, his mother said.

That was until another parent told her about the Hackensack-based North Jersey Avalanche.

It's become a “life saver” and a “great outlet” for Reese, now 15, these past five years, Jennifer Citro told Daily Voice.

Head coach Bob Jaffe of Ramsey established "the Avs" eight years ago after volunteering with another special needs program.

“I really fell in love with the kids,” Jaffe said. “There was a need in Bergen County."

The Ice House "opened the door [for that],” he said.

The Bergen and Passaic youngsters attend roughly a dozen sessions a year at the Ice House in Hackensack and travel for American Special Hockey Association tournaments.

Reese Citro, for one, has made friends on the Virginia and Buffalo, N.Y. teams.

“They develop that camaraderie, that friendship,” his mother said.

“Hockey is the most important thing in my life,” Reese told her.

The Avs “receive the same benefits” as players not on the autism spectrum – namely, discipline and friendships – said Rich Migatz, a former collegiate hockey player from Paramus who is the team's assistant coach and manager.

Migatz skates along with the players -- including his son, Jason -- and leads them in drills.

“Rich was a great facilitator and really helped me build the team to what it is today,” Jaffe said.

“They are fantastic kids. I love being around them," Jaffe added. "It continually teaches me every week.”

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