Long Island Life Line

New York Islanders Girls Program Provides More Than Just A Place To Play In These Trying Times

A little more than four years ago Alexis Moed returned home to Long Island searching for something she never had as a young female hockey player. A league of her own.

When she first started playing as a 12 year old, Moed had little choice but to play on boys' teams. As her skills and commitment to the game grew, her only option was to commute to Connecticut to play with like-minded girls in the Connecticut Polar Bears program. The move proved beneficial as she went on to play Division I hockey at Boston College.

As time passed and Moed returned to her grassroots, she found that little had changed in the girls' hockey landscape.

"With so many years having passed since I left the island, it stood to reason that some progress should have been made," she said. "It hadn't."

That's when she set out to create an opportunity for girls on Long Island to play hockey with other girls under the guidance of those who know what it's like to be ... a girl. Along the way, she's made a series of line changes that showcased her ingenuity.

"I wanted to create what I didn't have growing up," Moed said of the inspiration behind creating the New York Islanders Girls Elite Hockey Program.

What started as a concept for one team quickly morphed into an organization that now features more than 100 players across five teams in 10U, 12U, 14U, 16U, 19U and a split-season squad.

"Just look at this little program on Long Island doing something that no one has done before," she said. "This little upstart program [is] coming up with all these great new innovative concepts to benefit girls in this sport."

That meant more than just the on-ice development. Structuring a program coached "mostly" by women for women, Moed offers players what she hails as an "all under one roof" complete and convenience experience so parents aren't forced to make additional sacrifices for their daughters' growth.

"Alexis has thought of everything," said Rob Corbett, whose daughter Brooke is in her third season with the 10U team.

And by "everything," Corbett is referring to the physical and mental compliments to each player's development.

In addition to implementing a strength and conditioning plan, Moed has created a curriculum that includes nutrition, stress management, academic and college advising and player evaluation, all under the roof of their home ice at Northwell Ice Health Center.

"My hockey background was so fragmented ... I knew what the shortcomings were and I wanted to adopt a different approach to girls hockey with a philosophy of building something better that wasn't a burden on families," Moed said

"With the help of the New York Islanders and Northwell Health, I had the necessary resources at my disposal to be innovative and create something unique that helps empower these young women."

More than just providing great coaching on the ice, the program takes a holistic view of athlete development, which is something today's aspiring players are desperately searching for.

"The nutrition piece really opened my eyes," said Carly Sukiel, who was a freshman on the Oswego State University ACHA women's hockey team last year."After I learned how to eat properly things really changed for me. Eating right transformed my game."

More than just transforming their games, the program is changing their lives, especially during the challenges of a season ravaged by Covid-19.

Sukiel, who played under Moed for three seasons is once again benefitting from the additional programming with the 19U team, after her sophomore year with the Oswego State University ACHA women's hockey team was iced because of COVID-19.

"I'm so fortunate that Alexis was there for me, and I was able to come back and play with my old team."

In fact, Sukiel was reunited with two of her best friends, Anya and Karina Laxton, who were frozen out of their first season playing on the Becker College women's hockey team.

"We feel so cheated," Karina Laxton said. "This is a year we can't get back. But Alexis gave us an opportunity to play and still be a part of a team. We are so thankful to still have some hockey in our lives."

"As a mom, I felt so bad because they had missed out on so much already," added Robin Laxton, whose third daughter Niki is also on the 19U team. "My first call was to Alexis. She immediately said, "don't worry, I'm going to figure it out, I'll find some way for them to be a part of the team. It was almost like a little bit of light in that darkness."

Laxton, who said her twin daughters have experienced significant anger and sadness because of the circumstances, shared an overwhelming appreciation for the off-ice programming, which included an overhaul of the organization's sports psychology efforts, headed up by mental conditioning coach Jim Winges.

"In all honesty, [stress management] it has never been more important than it is now," said Winges, who also coaches the 14U team. "When the pandemic hit, we had two options; hide and throw our hands up. But when you think about it, that was never really an option. We really only had one choice, [which was] to meet this head on, and that's what we did."

Coming together as a team on the ice, physically, seemingly highlights just how successful this program has become in such a short time. Their teams are consistently competing for titles in the Mid Atlantic Women's Hockey Association titles but players are also taking the lessons learned on Long Island and moving on to Division I programs.

"Right now, it usually takes two and a half hours to get to the practice facility," says Derek Vockins, who commutes from Brooklyn with his daughter Sabine, who is in her fourth year in the program. "There are programs that are more convenient to where we live, but I drive that far for a reason."

What started as one woman's vision to create something more for young girls on Long Island has quickly grown into something much bigger. During the best of times it has given each of these girls a sense of community as well as provide a roadmap for their future. But in the wake of what has been season of disappointment and despair it has served as a lifeline that lifted spirits and let each player they were not alone. They had each other and their extended hockey family to pull them through.

"This program, honestly, has changed my life," Sukiel said. "I can honestly say the last four years have been the best years of my life. What she [Alexis] did for us these last eight months has meant everything."


Michelle Bonner is a hockey mom and freelance writer based in West Hartford, Conn.

 

Issue: 
2021-04

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