St. Anthony’s alum James Mazza played his last high school game on March 4, 2012 at the Nassau Coliseum.
Mazza, then a senior and captain of the Friars ice hockey team won the CHSAA state championship in a 4-3 win over St. Francis of Buffalo. It was St. Anthony’s hockey first state title in program history.
A year, four months and five days later Mazza returned to the scene of his last high school hockey game Tuesday afternoon. This time instead of Friars’ black and gold, he was donning the orange and blue of the New York Islanders
“It’s a pretty surreal feeling,” the former Friars defenseman said following his first day of prospect camp. “The Islanders gave me a good opportunity to get back out there and I have to thank them for it.”
The four-day camp includes daily on and off-ice sessions, team-building field trips and culminates in the Islanders Orange & Blue prospects scrimmage in front of thousands of fans at the Nassau Coliseum.
“I’m looking forward to playing in the scrimmage,” Mazza said of Thursday night’s affair. “It’s kind of weird because the first thing I did was come into the rink today and looked to where I sat for Game 6 in (this year’s) playoffs. It’s extremely exciting.”
The former St. Anthony’s defenseman got the invitation to the Islanders Prospect Camp about three weeks ago and said he was beyond excited to get the opportunity, although he did grow up as a fan of the other team in New York.
“To be honest I was a Rangers fan growing up, but in 2006 (the Islanders) took me to the Quebec Pee-Wee tournament with the Jr. Islanders and ever since then I always rooted for them,” Mazza said afterwards. “I was here when they lost to Pittsburgh in Game 6 this year so I slowly became an Islanders fan over the years.”
Mazza still keeps touch with his former coach Jeff Stelmok and many of his Friar teammates.
“Of course I keep in touch with Coach Stelmok,” Mazza said. “I always get a couple of laughs out of him and all the seniors.”
The 6-foot-1, 183-pound Mazza is one of four Long Island locals participating in prospect camp along with Joey Diamond (Long Beach), Ben Rosen (Syosset) and Steve Alonge (Lynbrook).
It’s a rare and unique opportunity for someone who is a year and a half removed from a state championship.
“I just want them to have some fun and enjoy it,” Islanders Head Coach Jack Capuano said of locals like Mazza. “Thursday night I’m sure they’ll be buying a few tickets (for family) to come watch the game. It’s a great experience for some of these kids, especially for them to come to a camp and not living too far away.”
Capuano stressed that for Mazza, prospect camp is just another step on getting closer to the pro level.
“When you leave these camps its not just us evaluating you it’s about you evaluating yourself and where you need to be and become a better pro,”
Mazza is a student of the game. During his time on ice Tuesday he could be spotting going over drills with Islanders scout Eric Cairns and assistant coach Matt Bertani.
“The coaching staff has been great,” Mazza said. “Eric Cairns and all of the guys out there have a ton of NHL experience. You just have to absorb everything and learn from it.”
Mazza didn’t look out of place, nor should he. He fit right at home.