“The only way to describe it is a miracle on ice,” Mason Peragine, 15, an assistant captain of Oceanside’s junior varsity hockey team, shouted over the clamor in the boys’ locker room at the Town of Oyster Bay Ice Skating Center on March 6. “It was a classic underdog story.”
The excitement was clear in the room as the squad geared up for a game against the Syosset Braves: The previous day, the team had returned home after making history. For the first time since its inception in 1975, Oceanside Ice Hockey had won the New York state junior varsity championship.
In a white-knuckle game upstate on March 4 against the Jamestown Raiders, Oceanside was behind 2-0 before scoring four goals in seven minutes to secure the championship, 4-2. The win for the junior varsity players was one more highlight of a season in which the team remains undefeated.
“It’s special to be a part of this, especially with a great group of guys,” Assistant Captain Anthony Piarulli said, noting great leadership from their captain, Justin Brooks, who was unable to participate in the final game because of a foot injury he suffered on the ice in an earlier game.
“It felt like I was on the ice with them,” Brooks said. “It stung not being able to play, but they included me anyways.” During the championship match, his teammates skated over to him on the bench and banged on the glass each time they scored.
No doubt, this was a comeback season. Last year the team lost 17 of the 18 games it played. Assistant coach Paul Rizzo explained that the results this year boiled down to a different coaching approach, coupled with the addition of five experienced players who graduated from his middle school team. That team won the Nassau County championship last year, and members used what they learned to help their teammates improve their game.
“I gotta give the credit to the other coaches,” Rizzo, who is certified to teach college-level hockey, said of head coach Billy Clark, who took over the organization around 20 years ago with Rizzo, and Rizzo’s son Jon, who started coaching the team last year.
“You know, I just implemented what I learned growing up playing,” Jon said. He was the captain of the Oceanside High School ice hockey team in his adolescence. This year he did extensive research off the ice and gave the players classroom-style instruction called “chalk talks” before skating out onto the ice with them to run drills.
Clark and Rizzo never got this far with the team before — the closest they came to winning this big was once in 2012 with their varsity team, which lost in the finals.
“It’s been a long journey and process,” Clark said. “It’s great to see all the hard work from us pay off.”
The parents of the players agreed, and commended the coaches, including assistants Mark Macioce and Kenny Schure, for their efforts.
“My son has been playing since he was 5 years old,” parent Cheryl Waltuch said. “He said it was not only the best hockey weekend of his life, but the best weekend of his life.”
The team returned to Oceanside High School that Monday to a heroes’ welcome, surrounded by blaring horns and flashing lights from fire trucks courtesy of the Oceanside Fire Department.
The team isn’t done playing for Oceanside just yet. After vanquishing Syosset and continuing their undefeated streak, the players plan on taking home the county championship on March 27. Regardless of the outcome, the season will go down as one for the history books.
“They played for their town,” parent Joe Derasmo mused after the team’s victorious return. “They played for Oceanside.”