It was the 2019-20 season of the High School Hockey League of Nassau County and the Lynbrook Hewlett-Woodmere and East Rockaway middle school hockey team was making a big push for the playoffs with a lot of momentum. But then, Covid-19 happened, everything including the season shut down right when the first round was about to start.
As the pandemic slowly phased out and the league began preparing for the 2022-23 season, the Hewlett-Woodmere based team didn’t have a team big enough to compete.
It started when Lynbrook district left and merged with Valley Stream and Sewanhaka’s team, the Storm, last season, leaving Hewlett and East Rockaway outside looking in.
“The whole program basically fell apart,” Hewlett resident Lauren Sobel said. “Kids aged out and the dads who volunteered moved on and it took a little while due to Covid for everything to get back up.”
The county hockey league, established in 1995, is a not-for-profit organization that helps young men and women in middle and high school develop good sportsmanship, self-discipline, self-confidence and positive decision-making through hockey. Members consist of public and private schools with approximately 800 students in the county and there are three divisions: varsity, junior varsity and middle school.
There are approximately 50 teams in the league.
One mother close to the Rockville Centre based team, the Cyclones, got Sobel in contact with the president and head coach of the junior varsity team, George Barrett, on the possibility of merging Hewlett with their team before the season started.
“We had a lot of hockey players in the district, from my sons who both play and their friends that they were in school with,” she said. “I knew they wanted to get back into it.”
Her older son, a Hewlett High School freshman, Nathan, played on the Lynbrook Hewlett East Rockaway team the last year it was in play on the middle school team. Although he plays on a travel team, too, he took great pride in playing on the middle school team, representing his neighborhood with his friends.
Barrett recognized the call for help from the neighboring district.
“Hockey has always been a passion of mine,” Barrett said, who played ice hockey at Stony Brook University. “It is always nice to extend to other people now we can grab a bunch of players from Hewlett, which is great.”
Now, as a high school freshman, Nathan plays on the junior varsity team for the Cyclones and as for his younger brother, Sammy, a seventh grader, plays on the middle school team.
In its first year in play, Sammy’s middle school team made it all the way to finals. However, they lost to the Bellmore Merrick Bulldogs.
Now, for this coming season, a third district will be joining the Cyclones, East Rockaway, having one team representing three districts.
“We are going to be able to have a super competitive team this year,” Barrett said.
Rockville Centre resident Alli Johnson who has two sons in the league, one on varsity and the other on the middle school team, viewed the merger as a way for those kids to have access to the sport.
“It’s a great sport and I know other kids who’ve done other sports but there is just something special about hockey,” she said. “I think its great that they merged and can have a team. It’s all about the kids wanting to play and having fun.”
With no previous communication before the one time Lauren reached out for help, she owes it to Barrett for bringing along children from her district and East Rockaway’s to keep the sport of hockey alive in both communities.
“He really got right on it and did whatever it was that he needed to do to talk to the league and get it going,” she said.
“He’s like most people in hockey, he’s really invested in growing the game and making sure that kids have access to it if they want to play. He was a hugely instrumental in making it happen.”
Evaluations took place at Freeport Rec Center from Sept. 5 though Sept. 8 for the three divisions.