Although there are fewer cars on the road during the winter season, the parking lot at the Southampton Ice Rink is always full.
Located at what is, in warmer months, the Southampton Driving Range, the 120-by-50-foot, covered rink is in operation from late October until early April. What began in 2012 as a smaller sheet of ice with no cover has evolved into a mecca for hockey on the East End. The accessibility and wide range of programs for skaters of all ages and ability levels has created a surge in popularity of ice hockey in Southampton.
Bryan Wish, director of hockey at the rink, has overseen this transformation and has been the driving force behind the hockey movement. In its sixth season, the facility boasts a new scoreboard, full-sized Zamboni—which has improved the quality of the ice tremendously—as well as new locker rooms to accommodate the increasing numbers of participants.
The youth league has seen the largest growth, with more than 100 players converging on the rink every week. Wish launched the youth league last season after several years of hockey clinics run by Garrett Bodington—the superintendent at Sebonack Golf Club who was also the New York Islanders’ emergency backup goalie last season—drew increasing numbers of young skaters to the rink. The inaugural season was a success, and this year Wish has been able to create U13 and U17 divisions due to greater attendance. Players compete wearing professional-looking uniforms proudly displaying their sponsor’s name. Life Storage is the main sponsor of the league and each team is additionally funded by local businesses. The coaches are parents serving as volunteers.
Monday through Thursday evening is a hub of hockey activity as kids’ games take place in the early evening followed by men’s league action. Expanding from eight to 10 teams in the past year, the 18-and-over league consists of two divisions, an A and B, depending on the skill level of the players. The 3-on-3 games are generally very high scoring and do not enforce icing or offsides.
Southampton resident Robbie Cameron, 34, compares the games to a “roller hockey style” that is “more stop and go” than 5-on-5 competition. Cameron has been participating in the league for three years and has noticed that there are many more opportunities to play hockey and skate on Long Island than there were before. “I didn’t have a rink like this when I was younger, but kids have it now and there are more people on the ice than ever.”
Reid Hansen, owner of the Southampton Golf Range, where the rink is built, said that hockey is certainly the main draw during the winter.
“Hockey is a big part of the rink. We have a lot of different programs—I don’t want to put any programs down—but hockey is very important,” he said. “The public skating is a big part of it, and the hockey is growing the most. We have ten teams in our youth league, ten teams in our men’s league. We have teams from up the island that practice here now. We have a local group on Sunday mornings that play here and we have clinics and drop-in hockey, so it is a huge part of the rink now and there’s a lot of interest in it.”
Due to the rink’s rising attendance, Wish is constantly adding new programs. This winter, he has helped organize an intro to hockey program along with a women’s clinic. With the help of coaches such as Brendan Goldstein, the pre-hockey program develops beginners’ skills and brings a sense of community to the rink as players from the youth leagues help out.
The 18-and-over women’s hockey club meets once a week on Monday nights. Consistently having about a dozen female players, Wish believes that the program will soon, “have a team that is able to travel and compete against other women’s hockey clubs.” This program is in its beginning stages, and Wish is open to adding a women’s league to the facility’s programs as attendance increases.
The Manorville native’s passion for hockey keeps him very busy throughout the year. Along with his role as director of hockey at the rink, Wish also coaches U12 and U14 Southampton travel teams. Michael Parrish, 12, of Southampton is one of the young athletes who competes for the U14 team and has been playing at the rink for five years. He has seen the facility’s evolution and remembers what it was like at first.
“The first year we played on a cover of ice and there were like 10 kids at every practice. But the rink has grown so much and over the years many more kids have shown up,” he said.
The ice rink has attracted new and unexpected audiences like the Southampton Fire Department. First seen as a casual way to exercise, the brigade now practices once a week for an hour and a half and plays in the weekly men’s league. Wish has witnessed how much better and engaged in the sport that the firefighters now are.
“You can see the difference. When they first started the core guys were like, ‘hey, this is a great exercise and we watch this on TV and it looks fun so let’s try,’ but now they actually want to get better at it and it’s cool to see.”
Hansen credits the town’s financial support and loyalty for his facility’s constant renovations.
“We sold the development rights to the town which gave us some extra flexibility to be able to do things like put in a hockey rink. And we always like to give back to the community. So just seeing what this has done for the community with all the kids that come down here is very satisfying.”
As the new year sweeps in, the hockey renaissance will continue until April when the rink closes and goes back to its summer specialty—golf.