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NJ coach wins Messier's Youth Leadership Award

Tuesday, 06.7.2011 / 10:29 AM ET / News
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NJ coach wins Messier\'s Youth Leadership Award
Mark Messier with Alex DePalma.
BOSTON – Former NHL great Mark Messier took to the media podium at the TD Banknorth Garden prior to Game 3 to announce the 2011 recipient of the The Bridgestone Mark Messier Youth Leadership Award.

Messier also named the three finalists – Zdeno Chara, Nicklas Lidstrom and Shane Doan – for the 2011 NHL Mark Messier Leadership Award.

The Youth Leadership Award, created to reward youth hockey players or mentors for their leadership and contributions to youth sports or education, receives nominations from across the United States and Canada.

"It's an exciting day for the National Hockey League and Bridgestone to announce the winner of The Bridgestone Mark Messier Youth Leadership Award. We take great pride in acknowledging the people in our community who do great work for the game of hockey, for our grassroots level of kids.

"This is one of the most important aspects for our children: provide good leadership and coaching and good mentorship. The winner this year has done everything beyond the call of duty – a tremendous asset to our game of hockey. We can use hockey as a metaphor for life. The leadership by is truly inspiring to us all for the many years he has reached out to our kids."

The award, which includes a $5,000 grant from Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations was presented to Brick Township, N.J.–based coach Alex DePalma, who founded the Brick Stars Challenger Ice Hockey program which enables special needs children experience the joy, competition and teamwork that are such unique parts of playing hockey.

DePalma is also the New Jersey Youth Hockey League (NJYHL) coaching director, USA Hockey ADM representative for the Atlantic District and an instructor with the USA Hockey coaching program. 

DePalma instills in his players the values of fair play, hard work and the importance of giving back to the community. Additionally, USA Hockey has previously recognized DePalma with numerous appointments, including 2009 Atlantic District Associate Coach in Chief and a five-year-running Outstanding Service Award.

"He's been working so hard for so many years unselfishly," DePalma's wife, Carrie, told

She is the catalyst to the award.

"I just thought it was the right time to submit the essay," she said about one of the award's main criteria. "I had it in my heart that he would win. It's such an honor because he so respects Mark.

"When she called me at work," said her euphoric hubby, "she was crying and saying, 'You won.' I thought she meant the lottery, but this is actually better. Guys like us do this out of passion and love – no expectations to be rewarded."

Messier also offered insight about a few of those people who most influenced his trek from tyke to titan.

"I was lucky," Messier told a packed media room. "I had my father who played hockey and he knew the game from a mental standpoint, but also a physical and technical standpoint. But he was busy when I played a lot of minor hockey with my older brother, so it was my mother I spent a lot of time talking hockey.

"If I had to pick out one coach [who most influenced my early career], it would be Ray 'Timer' Lemaire. He was a guy to this day that made a big impact in my life. As a player you look back at those people that are there to help you and guide you."

"The wives and the mothers – they see it all," said Carrie DePalma.
DePalma has guided many kids in his 20 years of devoted advocacy for youth hockey.

One was James van Riemsdyk, who played for DePalma's teams from squirts to midgets, was drafted second overall by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2007.

But DePalma knows these success stories are few and far between; he focuses on simple goals for average kids.

"In 20 years, I never had a player quit on me," said DePalma. "Carrie put that in the essay. I thought it was telling. They need to have fun. So many kids quit because of the pressure put on by coaches. That she remembered that meant a lot to me."

Even more to his charges and their parents.

"The satisfaction," said DePalma, "comes from when you're coaching kids that come back in four years and say, 'Thanks to you, Coach, I'm not late for work.' Coaching is about teaching -- teaching kids about things they can carry with them for life.

"When it comes to the special needs program we started a year ago, the satisfaction is every time you come off the ice -- no hockey expectations for those kids. The parents say 'Thank you.' Thank you for what? 'Thank you for just getting them out there.' Everyday is an award. This [award] is something extra – something special."




1 WSH 49 36 9 4 161 110 76
2 FLA 51 31 15 5 141 112 67
3 TBL 51 29 18 4 137 118 62
4 NYR 51 28 18 5 146 132 61
5 BOS 51 27 18 6 149 136 60
6 NYI 49 26 17 6 134 121 58
7 DET 51 25 18 8 125 130 58
8 NJD 52 26 20 6 117 118 58
9 PIT 50 25 18 7 129 128 57
10 CAR 53 24 21 8 129 141 56
11 PHI 49 23 18 8 117 128 54
12 MTL 52 24 24 4 137 141 52
13 OTT 52 23 23 6 142 164 52
14 TOR 50 19 22 9 116 134 47
15 BUF 52 21 26 5 119 137 47
16 CBJ 54 21 28 5 135 168 47


L. Stempniak 52 15 23 7 38
M. Cammalleri 42 14 24 15 38
K. Palmieri 52 20 15 3 35
A. Henrique 50 16 16 14 32
T. Zajac 44 7 17 6 24
D. Schlemko 44 6 9 -8 15
A. Larsson 52 2 11 12 13
D. Severson 50 1 12 0 13
A. Greene 52 4 6 2 10
J. Moore 44 3 7 -1 10
C. Schneider 23 15 5 .929 2.03
K. Kinkaid 3 5 1 .909 2.52