By Amanda Wyatt; Photography by Michael Heller
The East End may not be hockey-obsessed just yet, but the winter sport — hugely popular in other parts of Long Island and in upstate New York — is gaining some momentum among local youth.
This week, kids across the South Fork have returned to the Buck skill Winter Club in East Hampton, where hockey season is once again in full swing. On Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, as well as weekend mornings, young athletes are honing their skills in Buckskill’s burgeoning junior hockey program.
But this is only the beginning. In the future, a high school hockey team — a first for the East End — could very well be in the works.
“Our ultimate goal is to create an East End hockey team that would play in the Suffolk County High School Hockey League,” said Doug DeGroot, the owner of Buckskill and a member of Bridgehampton School Board of Education (BOE).
“We feel like within the next couple of years, that’s going to come to fruition. We’re actually going to do that,” he said.
At a recent BOE meeting, DeGroot addressed his fellow board members on the possibility of Bridgehampton School taking the lead in creating the multi-school hockey team.
As Dr. Lois Favre, school superintendent, noted, members of the BOE had already requested that the school provide students with more athletic opportunities.
While the team would be affiliated with Bridgehampton School, it would not technically be an inter-scholastic sport. Rather, the team would act as outside club, possibly using Bridgehampton School’s name if legally permitted.
“This doesn’t mean only Bridgehampton kids [would play],” he said. “We’d really draw from the whole East End.”
After all, he noted, most local schools — especially Bridgehampton School — are far too small to form their own individual hockey teams, which generally range in size from 15 to upwards of 25 players. Recruiting from East Hampton, Southampton, Sag Harbor, Ross School and other schools would be a necessity, said DeGroot.
DeGroot imagines the team being co-ed and playing at the varsity level. The team could practice and perhaps play home games at Buckskill, while playing their away games at The Rinxs in Hauppaugue.
For several years, Bridgehampton students have been invited to Buckskill to learn to skate. DeGroot’s kids, as well as a couple of their classmates, already play in the junior hockey league three to four times a week.
“The mechanism is there,” he said, adding that having a team affiliated with Bridgehampton would be a boon to the school.
“We don’t host any of the shared sports; we give our students to the other teams,” said DeGroot. “We have no influence on how they run their team, what they do at any level.”
“In the meantime,” DeGroot says, “we’re trying to get as many kids involved in skating as possible. Our hockey program is building up a lot.”
And some enthusiasts are already seeing “a huge growth” in ice hockey locally, such as Tim Luzadre, Buckskill’s head hockey coach.
“It seems to be getting a little more popular every year,” agreed Ryan Koresky, another Buckskill coach.
In order to put together a team, about 15 players are needed. In past years, this has been a challenge, especially at the high school level, Luzadre said.
“It’s harder to get high school kids, because they didn’t start here,” Luzadre noted. “It’s kind of a work in progress.”
But there are a number of younger kids who are committed, like Jack, a seven-year-old student from The Ross School.
A hockey player since the age of “two and a half,” Jack said he wanted to play the sport for the rest of his life.
“It’s my favorite sport,” he said. “It gives you a lot of exercise and I just really like it.”
Twelve-year-old Jonathan DeGroot, who is in sixth grade at Bridgehampton School, has been playing for six years. He was excited about the prospect of a school hockey team.
“I’d love that,” he said.
Chris Doran, an 18-year-old senior at East Hampton High School, has played hockey since the age of three. Since moving to East Hampton two years ago, he has played in the Men’s Drop-In League at Buckskill.
Although he will be in college by the time a hockey team forms, Doran still thought the idea was “really cool.”
When asked what he liked about playing hockey, Doran said, “just being on the ice, being around all of your friends, the fans — it’s just a great environment.”