One of the few bright spots for NHL players during the lockout that wiped out the first half of the 2012-13 season was the opportunity for some of the game’s top stars to jump in and lend a hand after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the Northeast.
New York Rangers center Brad Richards, for example, rounded up 10 of his Broadway Blueshirts teammates for a hockey clinic on Staten Island, an event that raised more than $10,000 for Sandy relief.
“Hockey was a way to rally some people together,” said Richards, who also teamed up with Philadelphia Flyers winger Scott Hartnell to organize a charity game in Atlantic City that raised more than $500,000.
“I don’t think it was about hockey. Hockey was a nice device to get the kids out, families out, parents that otherwise were thinking about a lot more important things, to maybe get a couple of hours with us, put some smiles on their faces, get their mind off that, and obviously raising money for some local areas that needed it.”
All For One, One For All
However, while a hockey clinic on Staten Island was a fine distraction, and both the clinic and the charity game succeeded in raising much-needed funds, hockey life in the New York metropolitan area – like just about everything else – was severely disrupted by the destructive storm. And, as New York’s vibrant grassroots hockey community looked to restore some semblance of normalcy, parents, coaches and league officials banded together to keep their players on the ice.
Even when there wasn’t ice to keep them on.
“We’ve had to play a lot of road games, let’s put it that way,” said Joe Brand, president of the Long Beach Apple Core, whose home rink, the Long Beach Arena, was in the crosshairs of Sandy’s devastating path.
“We probably had a foot and a half of sand and salt water in the rink the night of the storm,” Brand said. “We got everything cleaned out, and then the rink became a FEMA site, where they handled donations to give out to families in need. Once all that got cleaned up, then you get to what’s broken, what’s not broken, what’s ruined, what wasn’t ruined.”
Despite the lack of a rink to play in, the Apple Core has forged on, aided by other members of the hockey community.
“Everybody bent over backwards to try to accommodate and help us out,” Brand said. “We had a number of kids who lost equipment; there were equipment drives that went on.
“The Long Island Hockey League was great with us. All the other teams, the support we got was great. We’re playing home games in their buildings, using their practice slots.”
Even with ice and equipment taken care of, the issues didn’t stop, but meeting the challenges fostered an even greater sense of community and brought the Apple Core family even closer together.
“We had coaches that lost cars who needed to carpool with parents,” Brand said. “We’re buying ice in buildings that are 45 minutes from here; you pray that the gas problem was going to be solved soon, because who’s going to be able [to drive]? For some of the teams, it really brought everybody even that much closer together.”
A Bonding Experience
The Greater New York Stars had a bonding experience of their own in the wake of Sandy, as the players and their families pitched in to help clean and restore their home at Coney Island’s Abe Stark Rink, overseen by Pete DiBona and league treasurer/registrar Lisa Davie.
“The kids came down and helped in cleaning out what we needed to clean out,” George said. “Obviously, the rink staff did the maintenance and getting the chillers up and running. When I got down there, I thought our season was over, but they got it up and they got it going and they did a great job.”
A Helping Hand
“We had coaches that lost cars who needed to carpool with parents ... For some teams, it really brought everybody even that much closer together.”
The Westchester Mariners, who play out of the Playland Ice Casino in Rye, N.Y., couldn’t get their rink back in time for the 2012-13 season, but they found a strong helping hand after being forced out of their home rink.
Mariners president Jeff Jacobson and hockey director Rich Guberti were able to line up ice time at a number of rinks in Westchester and in western Connecticut.
“People were very accommodating,” Jacobson said.
He found an added bonus for their players with help from the Rangers, who have allowed the Mariners to skate at their training facility in Greenburgh, N.Y.
“That’s the first time they’ve ever done that for a non-Ranger event,” Jacobson said. “We approached them, and they were very accommodating, which is really cool for the kids and some of the parents. They may pass a Ranger, a familiar face. That’s a really good thing.”
With help from the Rangers, and the rest of the hockey community, the Mariners have been able to keep their teams on the ice this season, but rumors and questions have begun to circulate about the future.
Westchester County officials moved in late January to sell bonds to finance repairs at the Ice Casino and around the adjacent Playland amusement park, while the Rangers and Chase Bank announced in early February that they will lend a hand in both Rye and Long Beach through the new Rangers Assist program.
Still, questions about when the rink can reopen and how the Mariners – the building’s primary tenant – can function without it remain to be answered.
“The biggest hurdle we’ve really had to face is questions about our existence going forward,” Jacobson said. “What’s going to happen next year? At this point, we don’t really have any answers.”
A Sense Of Normalcy
Losing an arena can certainly hurt a program, but when a player doesn’t have a house to go home to from the arena, it’s an entirely different story.
Cody Liguori, a Bantam player from the barrier community of Lavallette, N.J., is living that story, and with the help of his family and his teammates on the Philadelphia Little Flyers, he’s writing one heck of a happy ending.
Living in one of the areas most affected by the storm, the Liguoris were forced from their home when the storm rolled in, and didn’t have much time to pack. Still, there was one thing that the Liguoris were sure not to leave behind.
“The number one thing that went to my car when we evacuated was my son’s hockey bag,” said Cody’s mom, Pegi Liguori. “I’m not even joking. It was the first thing that was in my car, and pretty much the only thing he had.”
“The biggest hurdle we've really had to face is questions about
Indeed, for Cody, who was part of the New Jersey Colonials team that won USA Hockey’s 12-Under Tier I National Championship in 2011 before moving on to the Little Flyers, hockey was an important link to normalcy as he found himself living in a hotel with his family and going to school at a Greek Orthodox church.
“I wanted to try to keep some consistency so that he didn’t get lost in the midst of all this devastation,” Pegi said. “It was important that our routine stayed the same. We were able to maintain our same routine with a few added challenges, like not having a kitchen and having to cook ‘creatively’ and still eat nutritiously so he could still give it 110 percent at his practices and such. It’s been very interesting.”
“Interesting” is certainly one word for it, but from Cody’s perspective, it’s also been a great success. He’s maintained his status as a high honors student in school (his grade average has never dropped below a 93), and he was selected to represent the Little Flyers at this year’s AYHL All-Star game at Quinnipiac University.
“I try to keep eyes on my priorities, school and hockey, and try to not really focus on what happened,” Cody said. “I still get to do what I love to do.”
Of course, as his mom notes, Cody wouldn’t have been able to stay involved without the help of his Little Flyers teammates and their families, who took turns hosting Cody in their homes in the weeks following the storm.
“I have to say that we couldn’t have done it without them,” Pegi said. “They’re an amazing bunch of people. They adopted us at Christmastime as their adopted family for donations, and they were able to help me financially and make it more possible so that Cody didn’t miss because of everything that did occur with the storm.”
The reality is that there’s a lot more work to be done before true normalcy can be restored and the effects of Sandy can be consigned to memories. However, as that work continues, the hockey community, from NHL teams and players to youth coaches, families and players, from all over the Tri-State area has done what families do: they’ve stuck together through the most trying of times. N
Elliot Olshansky is a freelance writer based out of Hartsdale, N.Y.
Photos By Mike Stobe, Getty Images, Norman Lono; Jeff Jacobson
A Great Assist To Get Kids On Ice
By Harry Thompson
Paul Owen remembers the first time he walked into the Abe Stark Arena after Hurricane Sandy.
“There was 4 feet of water, up to the glass, and then 4 inches of mud after the water receded,” said
the youth hockey coach after surveying the damage at the Coney Island, N.Y., facility.
“The whole thing was a mess.”
Who better to help clean up the residual effects of the super storm that rocked the east coast in mid-October than the Great One himself?
Wayne Gretzky, who ended his legendary career as a member of the N.Y. Rangers teamed up with TD Bank to present the Greater New York City Ice Hockey League with a check for $15,000 to help replace equipment damaged or destroyed when Sandy swamped the People’s Playground rink.
“We’re back on our feet, getting on in the hockey business as normal, and that donation will go a long way in restoring the equipment we lost,” said George Clark, the league’s director of fundraising.
While the check was greatly appreciated, it was Gretzky who stole the show with a few encouraging words and a drop of the puck to start a pick-up hockey game.
“It’s great that the community and TD Bank rallied to get this rink back up and running,” Gretzky said. “The best part for these kids is probably that they were able to miss school, so they’re probably thrilled.”
‘War’ Restores More Than Community Coffers
By Harry Thompson
What started as a simple idea, a charity hockey game to raise money and supplies for the local food bank, did much more than that. It raised the spirits of a community hard hit by Hurricane Sandy.
Either way, what was labeled as the “War to Restore NJ” was an impressive outpouring of support from the local hockey community as more than 2,200 hockey fans packed Mennen Sports Arena in Morristown, N.J., on Nov. 16 to watch the New Jersey Devils alumni take on the coaches from the N.J. Colonials travel program.
“It was like a barn raising except we were raising money so people could return to their homes,” said Dede McMenamy, the president of the N.J. Colonials program.
The proceeds from the event went to benefit local charities such as the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund and The Interfaith Food Pantry of Morris County.
With the NHL in the midst of a lockout, the event received a huge boost from the Devils’ head coach Pete DeBoer and his wife Susan. But help came from every direction as the generosity of the hockey community was on full display.
“It was just amazing the amount of people who came forward to help,” McMenamy said.
Among the Devils alumni to lace up the skates were fan favorites Ken Daneyko, John MacLean, Sergei Brylin, Grant Marshall and Bruce Driver.
They had all they could handle from Colonials coaches, many of whom played for Div. I or III collegiate programs and other top leagues.
In the end, the final tally on the scoreboard was irrelevant compared to the outpouring of support from the local community as the event raised more than $27,000, and 3,562 pounds of food for the Interfaith Food Pantry.