The slice of ice is replaced with the spin of wheels. The sharp passing and shooting looks eerily similar, but the object coming off the sticks, heading for the net is a ball, not a puck. Players are dressed like those who skate around the Coliseum, but there’s no chill factor at this rink, except for the occasional wind. After the game, the cheer across the winners’ faces and gloom coming from the losing side is like any other hockey game. The difference is minimal, but roller hockey has grown on Long Island much like its cousin, ice hockey.
Established in 1972, the St. John of God Roller Hockey is a not-for-profit roller hockey league that involves more than 375 children and teens (between the age of five and 17) each year.
“We play full NHL rules, which is unique to our roller hockey league because we play whatever the pros play except for the fighting,” said Anthony Ceccarini, one of the St. John of God Roller Hockey League commissioners. “There’s full checking even at the youngest age, five-years-old. The league is almost 40 years old now. We started in 1972. It’s grown from 30 to 35 kids, we had two teams the first year in ’72 and now we have 22 teams in the program.”
As the league has grown over the years, the program has become a large part of the Central Islip and St. John of God community. The kids loved participating in the league, and it truly was a great way to get families involved. Without any renovations in four dacades, the roller hockey rink needed a makeover.
“We play on asphalt, so it was all cracked. And the boards, we never had boards like an ice hockey rink,” said Ceccarini. “The boards were simply plywood. When we first started in 1972 there were no boards at all. In the early ‘80s, we had some volunteers put some plywood together and we formed a rink.”
Steven Beisel, Islanders Senior Sales Executive, is an alumnus of the St. John of God Roller Hockey program and remembers the wooden boards well. So when he was asked to help, he wanted to make sure he did everything he could to give back to the community that gave him such positive memories of his youth.
“I played in the roller hockey program from 1979 to 1991 and I volunteer my time as a coach for league now,” Beisel said. “I was honored when they approached me to help give back to a league that was so much a part of my youth. I only wanted make sure that we, the Islanders, could do all we could to produce the outcome they were hoping for.”
The Islanders definitely did above and beyond for the St. John of God Roller Hockey program. Through the “Pucks for Bucks” program, the Islanders sold the not-for-profit league more than 1,600 tickets at a discounted price to the Islanders versus Devils game on January 23, 2009. The program was then able to sell the tickets to fans as a fundraiser, allowing the league to accumulate more than $25,000 for the St. John of God Roller Hockey program.
With the funds, the organization was able to reconstruct the roller hockey rink, which was built upon the inception of St. John of God Roller Hockey program in 1972 and was never renovated. The Islanders were also able to reach out across their network of contacts and found the Abe Stark Arena, which donated the boards and plexi-glass for the new arena in Central Islip.
“We were able to put new asphalt down and concrete footings,” Ceccarini said. “The boards themselves, we got from an ice hockey rink in Coney Island called Abe Stark Arena, who had ordered a new rink. They told us that the old boards were less than 10 years old so they would give them to St. John of God and those are the boards that we installed for the renovation.”
Once the renovation was complete, the St. John of God Roller Hockey program hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate the reopening of the rink. More than 300 people turned out for the event and Ceccarini considered it a huge success.
“We did a blessing of the new rink and then the kids counted down ‘10, nine, eight, seven,’ and after we got to one, we cut the ribbon,” Ceccarini said. “At that time, all the players skated on the rink for the first time. Really it gave you goose bumps. It was such a great moment and the Islanders were there to be a part of it, so that was great.”