Three teams have become one, as hockey players in Rockville Centre, East Rockaway and Hewlett have joined forces on the ice.
Rockville Centre resident Alli Johnson, who has two sons in the High School Hockey League of Nassau County, one on the Rockville Centre Cyclones’ varsity team and the other on the middle school squad, said she saw the merger of the three school districts as a way for more kids to have access to the sport.
“It’s a great sport, and I know other kids who’ve done other sports, but there’s just something special about hockey,” Johnson said. “I think it’s great that they merged and can have a team. It’s all about the kids wanting to play and having fun.”
The need for the merger dates back to the league’s 2019-20 season. At the time, a team of Lynbrook, East Rockaway and Hewlett-Woodmere middle school players was making a big push for the playoffs. But when the coronavirus pandemic hit, the season shut down just as the first round of playoffs was about to start.
Two years later, as the pandemic slowly faded and the league began preparing for the 2022-23 season, the Hewlett-Woodmere- based team didn’t have enough players to compete. The problem started when Lynbrook district players left and joined another team, with students from Valley Stream and Sewanhaka, leaving Hewlett-Woodmere and East Rockaway athletes unable to play.
“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 High School Hockey League of Nassau County, established in 1995, is a nonprofit organization that helps young men and women in middle and high school develop good sportsmanship, self-discipline, self-confidence and positive decision-making skills through hockey. Its members are public and private schools with enrollments of roughly 800 students, and there are some 50 teams in three divisions: varsity, junior varsity and middle school.
One mother who is close to the Rockville Centre based teams, the Cyclones, put Sobel in contact with the president and head coach of the junior varsity team, George Barrett, to discuss the possibility of merging Hewlett-Woodmere with the Cyclones 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,” Sobel said. “I knew they wanted to get back into it.”
Her oldest son, Nathan, a Hewlett High School freshman, played on the Lynbrook/Hewlett/East Rockaway middle school team the last year it competed. Although he plays on a travel team, too, Nathan took great pride in playing on the middle school team, representing his neighborhood with his friends.
Barrett heeded the call for help from the neighboring district.
“Hockey has always been a passion of mine,” said Barrett, who played 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.”
Nathan now plays on the Cyclones’ JV squad, and his younger brother, Sammy, a seventh-grader, plays on the middle school team.
In its first year, Sammy’s team made it all the way to the league finals before losing to the Bellmore Merrick Bulldogs.
This year, the East Rockaway district will also join the Cyclones, so there will be one Rockville Centre-based team in each age division representing three districts.
“We’re going to be able to have a super competitive team this year,” Barrett said.
Sobel said she credits Barrett for bringing along children from her district and East Rockaway to keep the sport 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,” Sobel 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.”