HockeyTown: Syosset, New York
by Matt Caputo/Correspondent
They say that the Big Apple has a bit of everything and, if that’s so, why not a hockey hub?
While Madison Square Garden is certainly a great stage for hockey, its immediate surrounding areas don’t produce hockey players as well as they turn out basketball stars. However, a 40-minute ride east to Long Island’s Nassau and Suffolk counties will bring you to the Met Area’s true “hockey district.”
A quick search of the encyclopedia-like hockeydb.com website renders 19 results for pucksters born in Syosset, N.Y., who have big-time (including college and pro) experience. A town about 30 miles east of Madison Square Garden, Syosset is the birthplace of two-time and reigning Stanley Cup winner Rob Scuderi (see Page 24), and at least a dozen other NHL and minor-league players.
Dallas Stars forward Eric Nystrom, the son of New York Islanders great Bobby Nystrom, and popular minor-league enforcer Neil Posillico also are from Syosset.
In no small part, the New York Islanders’ Stanley Cup dynasty a generation ago helped establish Long Island as greater New York City’s hockey hotbed. Syosset is home to the practice rink of the Islanders, called Islanders Iceworks. The team bought the building when it was called the Long Island Skating Academy more than a decade ago and has morphed the facility into the club’s daily workout and skating facility.
“It was always great driving by the rink when they were there when I was a kid. Growing up, I think, that inspires you a little bit more,” says Posillico, who went to veterans’ camp with the Islanders (in 2005-06) early in his young career. “It’s great to have it in your backyard. You kind of idolized them.”
Posillico also worked at Iceworks and taught hockey himself for several years. He’s one of a growing number of Long Island natives with good hockey résumés. He played major junior hockey in the OHL and QMJHL and professionally in minor leagues like the ECHL. He grew up playing hockey with Long Island natives such as Mike Komisarek and Ryan Vesce, who eventually made it to the NHL.
“We had a great coach named Dan Marshall who coached a lot of different teams out of Syosset,” Posillico said. “He was responsible for helping a lot of guys learn the game and he won a bunch of titles. He sent a lot of guys to the pros over the last few years. He, Mike (Komisarek) and Eric (Nystrom) all skated with him.”
Although the Islanders are set to move to Brooklyn in 2015 after their lease expires at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale (see Page 18), there’s little doubt they’ll have left a profound impact on the area for years to come.
“It’s definitely going to hurt not having them in our backyard,” Posillico said. “But as long as there is a rink, the kids will still play hockey.”
Scuderi won his second Stanley Cup this spring with the Los Angeles Kings but began playing hockey with the Long Island Gulls and New York Apple Core midget and junior teams before attending St. Anthony’s High School in nearby Huntington, where he played four years of hockey and three years of lacrosse.
Scuderi became a legend in the eyes of many Pittsburgh Penguins fans when he dropped down in front of the net to make a play that was probably the most memorable of the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals. The Penguins were ahead 2-1 over the Detroit Red Wings in Game 6 when Scuderi stopped Johan Franzen’s shot at a wide-open net with his stick, and then stopped Franzén again with his skate.
Another Syosset native involved in the NHL is Calgary Flames assistant GM John Weisbrod. After a four-year playing career at Harvard and some time in the pros, Weisbrod found his way into major sports, first as the GM of the NBA’s Orlando Magic and later as a scout with the Dallas Stars and director of college scouting for the Boston Bruins. He became assistant GM in Calgary after earning a Stanley Cup ring with the Bruins in 2011.
Eric Nystrom was born in Syosset and has played 360 games in the NHL. Although he grew up primarily in Western Canada, he attended the Portledge School in Locust Valley, N.Y.
Other Syosset natives are still hoping to work their way into the NHL. Sam Kim, a Syosset High School graduate, is an assistant coach at American International College in Springfield, Mass. He attended camps at Iceworks as a kid and spent a year working as an intern at Iceworks through the Islanders organization.
“A bunch of my friends played, so I got into it. I became obsessed pretty quickly and wanted to play all the time,” said Kim. “Growing up around Iceworks definitely fueled my passion for the game. Having a place right in my backyard made the game more accessible, and it became my second home. I love the smell of that rink.”
After playing ice hockey at Syosset High School, Kim worked with the Boston College men’s team as an administrative assistant. He later served as the head coach of Columbia University’s men’s club team and guided them to their league championship game at just 25 years old. Now 27, Kim is taking graduate courses in sports management at the University of Massachusetts and hoping to catch on in the NHL someday.
“I think any time you have a passion for anything, you want to go as far as you can in your career,” said Kim. “A lot of people think of Minnesota, Michigan and Massachusetts when they think of hockey, but I think there’s definitely a strong hockey culture around Long Island that sometimes gets overlooked.”
This article originally appeared in the December 2012 issue of New York Hockey Journal.