By Gavin Menu
Growing up in Sag Harbor, the son of a Canadian, it was only natural that Alexei Andrea came to love the sport of hockey. To compete year-round, however, he played the game not on skates, but on wheels, in roller rinks across the East End.
It wasn’t until the Buckskill Winter Club opened in East Hampton in 2008 with a regulation-sized ice rink that Alexei’s passion for hockey was solidified. A few tours around the ice at Buckskill and the wheels were replaced by blades, and a budding hockey star was born.
“Once he got on ice, he never looked back,” said Jill Andrea, Alexei’s mother, who hails from Edmonton, Canada. “His father grew up playing hockey, too, so it runs in our family.”
Alexei this spring earned a roster spot on the Tier I Bantam Minor AAA Team of the Junior Islanders, which includes a collection of travel teams run under the banner of the New York Islanders, Long Island’s own National Hockey League (NHL) club. The AAA level represents the pinnacle of the sport for youth hockey, a milestone Alexei has worked hard to reach.
“The experiences that you will have playing hockey are amazing,” Alexei, 13, a seventh grader at Pierson Middle School, said this week. “Hockey seems to build character and respect for your teammates and the game. Sometimes hockey will interfere with some schoolwork but it is more important to stay on top in school. No matter what, education comes first.”
And, for Alexei, hockey clearly comes second. According to his mother, he has spent huge chunks of time over the last few years traveling alongside his father, Doug, to tournaments in Boston, Philadelphia, Montreal and across upstate New York. It all began playing in house leagues at The Rinx in Hauppauge, a huge skating complex where the family would travel to play hockey every weekend.
“He loved it so much, he went to summer camp, all hockey training, five days a week,” Jill said. “He started getting really good, so he tried out for the travel leagues.”
Alexei first played single-A hockey at the age of nine, and then moved on to AA. Following tryouts earlier this spring, he was named to the AAA club for his age group, which will begin competition this August and continue through next April.
“The better you get the further you go,” Jill said of the travel demands associated with junior hockey. “This year he’ll be playing a lot of places in Canada and upstate New York. It’s really hard to keep up with. All winter he’s on the road, every other weekend.”
For Alexei, a right-winger whose favorite player is Alex Galchenyuk of the Montreal Canadiens, the demands are not about work, but fun. The family said Alexei will most likely attend private school in Connecticut or New England once he reaches high school, where his ultimate goal of playing collegiate hockey will begin.
“Depending on how big he grows, he wants to play college hockey,” Jill said. “That’s his big dream. He plays right wing because he likes to score, he likes to pass.”
“He likes the glory,” she added with a laugh, “he loves the celebration.”