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Hockey

New York Islanders forward Clark Gillies delivers the eulogy at a Mass celebrating Al Arbour’s life Friday at St. Patrick’s R.C. Church in Huntington. Photo by Alex Petroski

Huntington residents had the chance to say goodbye to an unforgettable champion.

On Friday, April 8, New York Islanders fans and former players gathered at St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in Huntington for a Mass celebrating the life of Al Arbour, the team’s late head coach who led the team to four straight Stanley Cup Championships starting in 1980. The Islanders are the only American team to ever do so in the National Hockey League.

The 19-year coach, a former Cold Spring Harbor resident, died in August at 82 years old. He and his family were members at the Church of St. Patrick in Huntington for more than 30 years.

Many of Islanders’ coach Al Arbour’s friends were in attendance at St. Patrick’s R.C. Church in Huntington Friday to celebrate his life, including a friend he captured four times—The Stanley Cup. Photo by Alex Petroski
Many of Islanders’ coach Al Arbour’s friends were in attendance at St. Patrick’s R.C. Church in Huntington Friday to celebrate his life, including a friend he captured four times—The Stanley Cup. Photo by Alex Petroski

Arbour won 119 playoff games with the Islanders, which is an NHL record for most wins by a coach with one franchise. During the 1980s, Arbour led the Islanders to 19 straight playoff series wins, which is still a record for all of North American professional sports. He was elected to the NHL Hall of Fame in 1996.

“Al was a man of respect, integrity and honesty,” said Joe McMahon, the team’s equipment manager and one of the organizers of the week’s events, during a phone interview Thursday. “He had a massive impact on the community. For kids that are playing hockey now on Long Island, I don’t know if you’d even be playing hockey on Long Island if it wasn’t for Al. Who knows if hockey would have survived on Long Island.”

Some Islander greats, including Clark Gillies, Bobby Nystrom, Denis Potvin, Chico Resch and Pat LaFontaine, attended the Mass. McMahon said he and other alumni chose April 7 and 8 for the events because playoff time was very special to Arbour, and the Islanders-Rangers game at Madison Square Garden Thursday night presented a perfect opportunity for fans and alumni to come together to remember the legendary coach while watching the game.

Former Islanders’ goaltender Glenn “Chico” Resch, who played on the team from 1973 to 1981, called Arbour kind, merciful, patient and full of humility.

“Al certainly wasn’t perfect, but in my life, he had the greatest impact, and it was because of those qualities that we loved our beloved coach so much,” Resch said during the Mass, struggling to fight back tears.

Gillies, who was elected into the NHL Hall of Fame in 2002 and played under Arbour for more than a decade and was a key contributor in all four Stanley Cup seasons, delivered the eulogy Friday. After sharing stories and laughs about his time spent with Arbour, Gillies read from a poem.

“I read of a man who stood to speak at the funeral of a friend,” Gillies read. “He referred to the dates on his tombstone that dated from the beginning to the end. He noted that first came the date of his birth, and he spoke of the following date with tears. But he said what mattered most of all was the dash between those years,” Gillies continued.

“Al, thank you for letting me share your dash,” Gillies said at the conclusion of the poem.

The Mass came on the heels of a celebration Thursday at the Fox Hollow Inn in Woodbury that included dinner, cocktails, appearances by current and former Islanders players and televisions broadcasting the Islanders 4-1 victory over the Rangers. Panel discussions hosted by Islanders broadcaster Jiggs McDonald carried on between periods of the game.

All net proceeds raised by the events were donated to the Al Arbour Fund, which benefits dementia research. McMahon said dementia contributed to Arbour’s death.

The Islanders concluded a successful regular season in their first year playing at Brooklyn’s Barclay’s Center, after 43 years at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale. The team will start a playoff run for their elusive fifth Stanley Cup this week.

“We lost a legend,” McMahon said.

Anyone interested in making donations should visit www.AlArbour.com.

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A golfer lines up his shot at Simplay in Hauppauge. Photo from Paul Muto

The sports are simulated, but the uniqueness of this new Hauppauge business is very much real.

Simplay, located at 180 Commerce Drive, opened its doors back in November in the heart of the Hauppauge Industrial Park as Long Island’s largest simulated sports arena, but its offerings go much further than just virtual driving ranges. Former U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Wyllie, who opened Simplay alongside co-owner Chuck Merritt, said his business has wide appeal to the full gamut of people in the greater Smithtown community, acting as place to blow off steam in a variety of ways including, but not limited to, kids’ birthday parties, baby showers, corporate events and more.

“Chuck and I shared a vision of bringing an unprecedented simulated sports and indoor country club offering to the Long Island community,” Wyllie said. “We’ve worked hard and built the stadium, so to speak, and are confident the players will want to come.”

Simplay is a 15,000-square-foot space filled with simulators that customers can rent on an hourly basis either in-store or online. But when they are not golfing, patrons can also kick back in front of any of the 14 high definition televisions throughout the facility, or hit the fully stocked bar near the front entrance.

Chris Wyllie plays hockey at Simplay in Hauppauge. Photo by Phil Corso
Chris Wyllie plays hockey at Simplay in Hauppauge. Photo by Phil Corso

For the average businessperson spending their time at the industrial park, Simplay serves as a place to blend work and play, Wyllie said. Deals could virtually be brokered over a leisurely game of virtual golf, or over the facility’s indoor putting green.

For the recreational golfer, Simplay boasts its array of 87 different Professional Golfers’ Association courses to hone skills on, whether it’s during a lunch hour or after hours.

“There are only a few places on Long Island with golf simulators, but nobody has the multi-sport applications that we do,” Merritt said. “We hope to be that go-to destination on Long Island.”

For the family, there is even more up for grabs, Wyllie said. In an attempt to keep the young ones occupied while the “grown-ups” work on their strokes, simulators could be transformed into virtual hockey arenas, football games or even zombie dodgeball bouts.

“It’s a big deal to people to know that we are very serious about golfing,” Wyllie said. “But all these others things we offer are important because they take this out of seasonality and allow anyone to let loose.”

In the back of Simplay, Wyllie and his partner Merritt crafted two VIP rooms and a 4,000-square-foot venue room they said was ideal for business meetings and corporate functions. It’s enough options to make someone’s head spin, but the co-owners said that was the goal, because their facility was multifaceted for different uses.

And to keep the community ties strong, Simplay has already reached out to various golf teams based out of Smithtown schools as a potential place to host practices and team events, Wyllie said. Such things, he said, could lead to more collaborative plans like golf leagues and more to attract patrons from not only Smithtown, but greater Long Island.

“There is a tremendous need for something like this in this community, we believe,” he said. “We haven’t even tapped into 50 percent of what we can offer since opening yet. There’s more to come.”

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The Rinx in Port Jefferson is a favorite spot for Suffolk County hockey fans. Photo by Alex Petroski

Through 45 games, the New York Islanders sit in second place in the National Hockey League’s Metropolitan Division, one point ahead of the New York Rangers. On the ice, the first half of their inaugural season in Brooklyn has looked similar to the past few years for the Islanders — they look like a playoff team with the potential to make a run at the Stanley Cup in the spring.

Off the ice is a different view: With 25 of the team’s 41 regular season home games in the books, the Islanders are 28th out of the NHL’s 30 teams in average attendance, drawing a little more than 13,000 people per game, according to approximate figures reported by media outlets, including ESPN.

The league does not confirm official attendance statistics until the end of the season, but reported that the Islanders drew more than 15,000 fans on average during their final run at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, in the 2014-15 hockey season.

The trip from Smithtown to Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, where the Barclays Center is located, takes more than an hour and a half by car. Taking the train from the Long Island Rail Road’s Smithtown train station takes about two and a half hours, including a change at Jamaica Station.

In an unofficial TBR Newspapers poll of Islanders fans from Suffolk County, most people said they had not yet been to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn to watch the Islanders this year.

Ron Carlson, a Port Jefferson resident and former village recreation director who had season tickets to the Coliseum for about 10 years, said the trip is too far by car and “I’m not a train person.” He has not been to a home game yet this season.

Erin Morano, of Shoreham, who regularly used to take her family of five to games in Nassau, hasn’t been to a game in 2015-16 either.

“It’s not as convenient,” Morano said. “Parking is tough and expensive in Brooklyn.”

Brittney Skarulis, of Smithtown, used to attend Islander games as a fan and an employee, but not so far in Brooklyn.

“It’s too far to go and the traffic is terrible,” Skarulis said. “I was a guest Islander ice girl when the games were in Nassau Coliseum. It was more convenient to go there than the Barclays Center.”

Some parents, like Ken Hayes from East Setauket, said it’s hard to bring their kids to game due to the long ride home — when games begin at 7 p.m. and end anywhere between 9:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m., they would get home too late.

Hayes went to his first game in Brooklyn in January. He said that it was fairly quiet for a hockey game.

Distance, lack of convenience, lack of parking and expense of the travel were the most common explanations for those who haven’t yet taken in a game this season. No one had a bad thing to say about the brand of hockey that the Islanders are putting on the ice. With a young core of talented players, the team is trending in the right direction. But fans from Suffolk County are not there to witness it as frequently in 2015 and 2016.

Northport running back Rob Dosch makes his way upfield while he carries Sachem North defenders in the Tigers' 29-22 homecoming win over the Flaming Arrows on Sept. 19. Photo by Bill Landon

By Miguel Bustamante

Northport school district is enacting stricter rules for handling student-athletes with concussions.

School board members were informed of new procedures for kids returning to athletics after those injuries during their meeting on Nov. 5, using guidance from New York State regulations.

Northport running back Rob Dosch makes his way upfield while he carries Sachem North defenders in the Tigers' 29-22 homecoming win over the Flaming Arrows on Sept. 19. Photo by Bill Landon
Northport running back Rob Dosch makes his way upfield while he carries Sachem North defenders in the Tigers’ 29-22 homecoming win over the Flaming Arrows on Sept. 19. Photo by Bill Landon

Paul Klimuszko, Northport-East Northport’s director of physical education, athletics and health, and Cynthia Fitzgerald, director of student support services, made a presentation to the board outlining the new procedures to follow if a student has a concussion.

“A concussion is an injury that changes the ways the cells in our brain function,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s important to understand that a concussion is a brain injury, and can occur in any sport.”

According to Fitzgerald, there are between 70 and 90 concussions in the district every year, including at the middle and high school levels.

The two administrators laid out the “return to play” regulations, which are used across the country and require students to complete a five-stage observational test before full re-entry into school-sponsored physical activities.

The five stages include light to moderate aerobic exercises observed by the school nurse and/or an athletic trainer; a non-contact gym class participation period; and a full-contact gym class participation period. A school district physician must clear the concussed students before he or she can be fully reintegrated into school athletics.

The presentation followed a previous district discussion about student safety in school athletics. That subject has been a hot topic over the last few years, but particularly since Tom Cutinella, a high school football player from Shoreham-Wading River, died after taking a big hit in a game against John Glenn High School in Elwood last year. School districts across Long Island have been making changes to their concussion responses following Cutinella’s death, and there have been new directions from the state on the matter.

Northport-East Northport Superintendent Robert Banzer. Photo by Victoria Espinoza
Northport-East Northport Superintendent Robert Banzer. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

New York State’s Concussion Management and Awareness Act of 2011 requires local school boards to develop and promote concussion management policies. According to the act, children and adolescents are more susceptible to concussions and take longer than adults to fully recover.

“Therefore, it is imperative that any student suspected of having sustained a concussion be immediately removed from athletic activity … until evaluated and cleared to return to athletic activity by a physician,” the act said.

Northport school officials don’t take concussions lightly, Klimuszko said.

“The athletic office ensures that all coaches are educated in the nature and risk of concussions and concussion-related injuries.”

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A hockey player was revived from a cardiac arrest on Monday after an off-duty police officer and good Samaritans stepped in.

According to the Suffolk County Police Department, the 49-year-old victim went into cardiac arrest and collapsed while playing hockey at the Sports Arena on Middle Country Road in St. James shortly after midnight. The off-duty cop, Steven Turner, who was also playing hockey and works in the SCPD’s Highway Patrol, and several others performed CPR and administered two shocks from the facility’s defibrillator. The collapsed man regained a pulse and started to breathe on his own again following the shocks.

Police said the rescued man was in stable condition at Stony Brook University Hospital.

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Ward Melville’s freshmen ice hockey team poses for a group photo after winning its second consecutive Suffolk County title. Photo from Billy Williams

The Ward Melville freshman ice hockey team capped off an undefeated season by winning the Suffolk County  Hockey League championship on March 3- with a win over Sachem.

The team finished the season with a record of 31-0, and has not lost a game in two years, with a record of 62-0.

This is back-to-back titles for the freshman team that had a dominant lineup led by Matthew Crasa, who was named the most valuable player of the playoffs, and sniper Jason Ruszkowski.

The team was led by head coach Mark Devlin, and assistant coaches Frank Catalina, Bobby Gazura and George Rainer.