Muller Insurance, which was founded in Hoboken in 1906, is known as a venerable local company, but they also succeed on the ice. Owner Roger Muller Jr. grew bored with watching his favorite team – the New Jersey Devils – lose, so he decided to create his own team.
Originally the New Jersey Rockets, the team is now known as the Hoboken Rockets, and they’re known for something else: an undefeated winter season.
The New Jersey Rockets began in 1991, thanks to Muller, who at the time was a member of the New Jersey Rebels. That year, the team boasted a dismal 1-19-0 record. The Rebels were a part of Hockey North America, based out of Virginia. He created his own team with the help of National Hockey League official John DeCarlo, and in 1992 the New Jersey Rockets joined Hockey North America.
Roger and his sister Erika watched Devils games as children. That grew into a love of the sport. Members of the Hoboken Rockets nicknamed Roger after New Jersey Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello, calling him “Roger Lamoriello” because he manages to obtain talented last-minute players. That was proven this year with the addition of defensemen John Banks, Dan and Mike Oettinger, and Enn Kunnapas.
“[They] ended up putting the team over the top,” said Muller.
“The team is sprinkled with a lot of talent.” – Peter Ferrell
The past 22 years have introduced the team to many different people.
“It seems like everybody played for the Rockets at one time or another,” said Muller.
Muller Insurance also sponsors three teams at the Ice House in Hackensack.
The winter season included a new achievement for the Hoboken Rockets to add to their many accolades, such as winning a championship in Toronto, Canada: they went undefeated with a final season of 18-0-0. The season ended on March 29 when the Hoboken Rockets beat Chico’s Bail Bonds.
Playing on the winter season roster were Goalie Peter Farrell from Creskill; defensemen James Guinaw of West New York, Mike Courtney from Rochelle Park, David Caggiano of Palisades Park, Bennett Shelley from Nyack, N.Y., Joe Dargan of Hoboken, John Banks from Secaucus, Timothy Calabrese of Bayonne; Forwards Jack Lenhart from Belleville, Greg Brown of Bedminster, Greg Cicchelli from Mahwah, Roger Muller Jr. of Hoboken, Dan Oettinger from Closter, Robert Ronconglio of Nutley, Mike Oettinger from Closter, Enn Kunnapas of Hasbrouck Heights, Erika Muller from Secaucus, Sonny Kim of Secaucus, Justin Sampat from Jersey City, Eric Lonsinger of Hoboken.
The player’s off-the-ice professions vary, from orthodontist David Caggiano to Bayonne police officer Timothy Calabrese to geologist Jack Lenhart. The player’s ages range from 19 to 56.
“We had a good mix,” said Muller. “We had the experience of some older guys that have been playing their whole lives. When things were close they’d keep everyone calm. Then the younger guys would have plenty of energy to keep things going when we needed it.”
“It was a nice cohesive unit,” said Dargan. “It was a great season.”
Top scorers for the season were Dan Oettinger, John Banks, Mike Oettinger, and Muller.
Reasons for the success of the team varied per person.
“Everyone on the team had really good personalities and were nice players,” said Muller. “We just had good chemistry. Hockey’s a team sport, so if you want to be an individual you might be successful, but the team’s not gonna be successful.”
“We had the most talent,” said Farrell. “The only time the most talent fails is when they don’t play as a team. The team is sprinkled with a lot of talent. If you move the puck and have talent you’re hard to beat. The less affluence, the more grit and the more determination.”
Farrell admitted that he doesn’t like to go undefeated because “it mounts unnecessary pressure.”
The older players on the team proved to be a force to be reckoned with.
“My back was hurting carrying the whole team on my back,” joked Banks, 43. “It keeps you young [playing ice hockey].”
“It was reliving my youth,” said Dargan. “I love competitive sports, it’s a good challenge. The best lessons you learn in life are all lessons you learn in team sports, coming together for one goal, being able to depend on people.”
Muller believes that a good team starts with a great goali, a lesson he said Peter Farrell has instilled in him.
The Hoboken Rockets continue their undefeated streak into the spring season. Their key to success was to have all members of the team share the ice and play in different shifts so that none of them get tired.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever been on a team that didn’t lose a game,” said Muller.
“Different people pitched in at different times,” said Dargan.
Thus far the rockets have won 21 games in a row continuing into the spring league.
During their winter season the team even made time for a charity event at Nassau Coliseum on Long Island to raise funds for the Long Island chapter of Autism Speaks.
“It’s really nice to be able to raise money for a charity but at the same time have fun,” said Muller.
Currently, Muller is sidelined with an injury, so Dan Oettinger is filling in as captain of the team.
Hudson County pride
The Hoboken Rockets have nine Hudson County team members, which Muller believes is an attribute.
“Hudson County people generally don’t give up that easy,” said Muller. “[We have] tough guys and they figure out a way to win. That’s another big plus on the team.”
“A Hudson County team will always have the most heart,” said Dargan.
For more information about the Hoboken Rockets visit www.mullerinsurance.com/rockets.
Vanessa Cruz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org