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Aug 7, 2018 12:53 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Summer On 'Ice': Off-Season Hockey At The Barn

Aspiring hockey players practice at The Barn, on the premises of the Southampton Golf Range on County Road 39, which has a synthetic ice surface DYLAN FINE
Aug 7, 2018 1:28 PM

While many kids in Southampton are spending their days at the beach, a small but growing group of dedicated ice hockey players are enjoying their summer on the “ice.”

With the hot weather and lack of skating rinks on the East End, hockey usually takes a back seat to other activities during this season. But local efforts at the Southampton Golf Range have increased interest in the sport and provided kids with a year-round training center. The multi-faceted facility, which offers golf activities in the warmer months, re-opens as the Southampton Ice Rink during the winter.

The driving force behind the local ice hockey movement is Bryan Wish, a Manorville native who is the director of hockey at the Southampton Ice Rink. One morning, on his way to work last winter, Wish received a call from Gurney’s in Montauk. The resort was dismantling its synthetic ice rink and offered it to him. Without hesitation, Wish sent workers to haul the rink back to Southampton. The sheets were assembled, complete with dasher boards and a goal to form a miniature 15’ x 36’ rink—not large enough for game usage, but ideal for practicing hockey skills.

The synthetic ice training ground at the Southampton Golf Range—now called “The Barn” in reference to the facility it is housed in—is one of the recent additions to a facility whose winter rink has greatly contributed to the resurgence of ice hockey in Southampton. Synthetic ice has been around since the 1960s and though the physics behind it are quite complex, the bottom line is that it can be skated on using actual hockey or figure skates. Wish describes the half-inch thick surface as, “basically a very hard plastic that grips the edges of your blades.” However, it is imperative that the skate blades are sharp, he said, otherwise even more friction will be created on the already resistant surface.

Wish grew up playing in PAL leagues at The Rinx in Hauppauge before competing at the high school and collegiate level. While he’s still a hockey player, Wish began his coaching career four years ago at Eastport South Manor in the Suffolk County High School Hockey League. A year later, at the Southampton Ice Rink, Wish, 29, volunteered to run youth hockey clinics with Garret Bodington, who is the golf course superintendent at Sebonack Golf Club, and the New York Islanders’ emergency back-up goaltender. He was the rink’s first hockey coach and served as a mentor to Wish.

While playing host to a popular adult league for several years, last year saw the rink’s addition of the Southampton Youth Hockey League. Four teams competed during the inaugural season. For the upcoming winter, Wish plans to have two separate divisions: U17 and U13. Since most of the players that he trains at the summer facility play in this league, Wish emphasizes the importance of The Barn.

“If I can improve these kids now, then when the season starts, we will have better hockey here and that will bring out more people,” he said. “The better hockey that you have at your rink, the more people will want to come out and play there.”

In an effort to help improve both his players and the league, Wish offers 90-minute private and small group training sessions. The players spend the first third of the practice off the ice stretching, running, working on footwork, sprinting, and doing basic conditioning. They use the next 30 minutes to practice their puck handling, passing, and overall technique while wearing shoes on the synthetic ice. In the last half hour, the kids put on their skates and train on the highly resistant surface.

Wish believes that practicing on the synthetic ice will benefit his athletes and help them skate much faster during the winter.

“The surface actually makes your legs stronger. It’s more resistant so it’s like using resistance bands. The more you use it, the more you get accustomed to it and then you see the transition onto real ice.”

At a recent July session, Wish’s players echoed their coach’s claims and gave him a lot of credit for their improvement. Emmett Wetter, 14, a Southampton resident who plays travel hockey, asserts that Wish is “a very good skating coach” and will “definitely improve my speed on the ice.” Another trainee, Cody Watson of Manorville, proclaims that by the winter season he’ll be “flying on the ice and sniping it!”

As for the winter season, which is still months away, owner Reid Hansen is constantly looking for new ways to update the facility. Plans are in the works to purchase a new Zamboni to improve ice quality and expand their already popular skating and hockey programs.

But for now, Wish is focused on his young skaters continuing to hone their skills on the synthetic version to “build their strength, fundamentals, and intelligence.” Both Wish and Hansen’s enthusiasm for change explains why this facility has evolved so much in the past few years.

For more information about The Barn visit thebarnhockey.com.

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