Siblings Roger and Erika Muller have ties to Hoboken going back 100 years, when their grandfather star ted the Muller Insurance business that still operates on Ninth and Washington Streets. Their ties to hockey go back almost 25 years, when after attending several New Jersey Devils games, the Mullers decided to start their own team.
“We got kind of bored sitting there watching the Devils play,” Roger Muller said. “We said, ‘boy, it’d be fun to play’.” However, Muller didn’t know how to ice skate. “A lot of people go to hockey games, and they wish they could play,” he said. “We didn’t know how to do anything.” So Muller started taking classes from an association called Hockey North America.
“We figured out what we needed to buy, and then the next class was about how to put it on,” he said. “By the sixth or seventh session we started having scrimmages. I remember saying to my mother, ‘I’m getting better, I only fell down 20 times during the game’.”
Muller joined a travel team called the New Jersey Rebels that unfortunately won only one game in two seasons. He then decided to form his own team, the Hoboken Rockets, and find good players. “I made sure I made friends with A-level players,” Muller said. “We started doing really well after that.”
By 1993 the team had won a tournament in Washington DC, and in 2001 it won the National Hockey North America Tournament in Toronto. “We were the first team from New Jersey ever to win the national championship,” Muller said. “I’m proud of that one.”
The Rockets now exist as an organization with three teams: one for beginners, one for older players, and one for players in their prime. They play locally at the Icehouse in Hackensack. Muller said the games are competitive though not as physically violent as in the professional NHL. The Mullers’ business sponsors the group, and Roger serves as the general manager.
He still plays, as does Erika, who went from having only childhood figure skating experience to eventually trying out for the USA Olympic women’s hockey team. Over the years the Rockets have featured many Hobokenites, including fire captain Jimmy Nardello and chiropractor Michael Kelly of the Spine & Sports Health Center on Eighth Street.
Muller said he still enjoys playing hockey 25 years after first learning. He’s a better skater too. “I’ve learned how to be in the right place,” he said. “As soon as I stop scoring I’m going to retire.”
Hobokenites who are too old for high school, can’t skate, or don’t got game for the NBA can still enjoy playing sports by joining one of the two regional and national recreational leagues that have franchises in the city: ZOG and ABL. Together they have enrolled thousands of Hobokenites in fun and competitive leagues for softball, flag football, kickball and many other sports played at Kennedy and Mama Johnson Fields and other venues in the city.
Chris Corbin, the general manager of ZOG’s Hoboken leagues, said that while many local players are former athletes, others join just for fun. “We have the ex-athlete that loves competition, and then we have the social athlete looking for an excuse to go out on a Tuesday night and play kickball,” he said.
“People play for lots of reasons,” Jason Ross, the Hoboken ABL commissioner said. “They play for that sense of camaraderie, hanging out with friends and catching up on life, reliving glory days, meeting new people, having fun, staying f it and more.”
Besides promoting sports, both leagues feed into two staples of modern Hoboken life: bars and families. After games, players usually gather for happy hour to rehash big plays or simply catch their breath. “Almost important as the game is the post-game of heading down to your local watering hole and having a beer or two,” Ross said.
Whether on the field or in the bar later, many league players have also found love. Ross met his fiancé during an ABL game, and Corbin also met his wife during a ZOG game. “I can’t even tell you how many marriages I’ve seen come out of ZOG,” Corbin said. “I know people who met playing in Hoboken, and now they’re pushing strollers together.” ••