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Rangers

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By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

Have you ever stopped in the middle of Penn Station amongst the noise and human activity and just think?

Recently, I did exactly that. It was rush hour. I had just finished teaching at Fordham University’s Lincoln Center Graduate School of Social Services. I took the one train to Penn Station. There was pandemonium like I have not seen since pre-pandemic days.

This was a different kind of energy. It was opening night for the New York Rangers. People’s excitement was contagious. I almost wished that I had a ticket so that I could go to the hockey game even though I hate hockey. 

In the midst of all of the noise and excitement, I stopped, took a breath and looked around. My eyes caught sight of a little girl with a Rangers jersey on that was bigger than her; she was on fire. I waved and caught her eye; she waved back with a big smile. As I was waiting for my train back to Ronkonkoma. I couldn’t help but think of her innocence, of her positive energy, of her genuine openness and that one day that beautiful little smile and abundant energy could be severely impaired because of the world we live in.

Soon enough she will move from the innocence of childhood into the chaos of adolescence and young adulthood. The world is a very negative place right now for the next generation to be nurtured in. We need to protect them from the garbage and hypocrisy that is everywhere. We need to attempt to change all of that negativity and make the world a place that is welcoming and inclusive, even if we disagree!

We need to work harder at building bigger bridges rather than stronger walls. We need to create a language grounded in respect and love for everyone, even when it’s hard, challenging and demanding.

No little girl should ever have her innocence and joy threatened or impaired because the world is filled with narcissism and selfishness.

Every day I see pain and suffering in the eyes of the mentally ill and the drug addicts that I live and work with; but I also see hope and potential for change and transformation. I see miracles every day which make me believe we can make the world better; make it more loving and caring for all the little ones who live in our midst.

Mental health is a major concern that is rapidly disarming and paralyzing a growing number of young people of every age and walk of life. We don’t have enough licensed mental health professionals that can cost-effectively meet the epidemic need before us. We must collaborate now to erase the stigma that painfully exists around mental health treatment. We must demand accountability from all our insurance providers who tend to play games with our mental health and access to comprehensive mental health treatment.

The government needs to stop talking the talk and begin walking the walk. Our faith leaders need to have the guts to stand up, be counted and lead us in the fight for protecting all life that is scarred by mental health disorders. This cannot wait for tomorrow.

Father Francis Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

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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.