Twelve-year-old Vincent Palagiano, of North Bellmore, chewed on his green mouth guard and wiped sweat from his brow before he gripped his hockey stick and glided onto the ice to join his teammates. Children as young as 9, from different parts of Long Island, came to the Freeport Recreation Center on Tuesday to play with the Long Island Arrows Youth Hockey league.
The Arrows, which have been around since the 1960s, have used the Recreation Center for 15 years, said team President Rob Albi, of Bellmore.
Vincent said he started playing hockey because it was unlike any other sport he had tried. With a laugh, he said he liked being one of the only kids in his sixth-grade class who plays.
“I get an adrenaline feeling when I’m playing,” he said. “I like to compete.”
A quiet force in Freeport, the Arrows league comprises 280 players, ages 2 to 18, on 14 teams. The league has gained a reputation for winning championships at both the local and state levels.
The program has developmental teams, which work on players’ skills, and travel teams, which are fiercely competitive. The travel squads play year-round. Dedication is key.
Arrows teams will be playing on Saturday, with the 8U team, which is made up of 7- and 8-year-olds, taking on Ramapo Black in Monsey, in Rockland County, while the 13-year-olds will play the Locust Valley Beaver Dam at the Recreation Center.
The Arrows’ season starts in August and runs through the end of March. Practices continue through the summer, with a break in July. League registration starts in late July and continues into August, but there is open enrollment throughout the season.
Albi said most beginners start on a developmental team, and eventually get a shot at playing with a travel team after they have gained enough experience.
“There’s always a time to start,” he said. “You call me or email me, and we take it from there.”
Fundraising helps keep players’ costs down, Albi said. The registration fee, which includes a full uniform, skates and other necessary equipment, is $200. The fee may be waived in cases of financial need.
“We want to make this as affordable as much as possible,” Albi said. “I don’t turn anyone down.”
Boys comprise the overwhelming majority of players, but Arrows teams are open to girls as well. Ashlee Marsala, 10, and Emily Stein, 8, are the only girls currently in the league.
The Arrows have traveled as far as Niagara Falls and Canada for competitions, and have taken part in International Silver Sticks tournaments between the United States and Canada. They have also won regional championships in the Long Island Amateur Hockey League, and rank highly in the Eastern Junior Elite Prospects League.
Hockey mom Nicole DiPaolo drives to Freeport from Amityville three to four times a week to bring her boys, Michael, 11, and John, 9, to practice. The half-hour trip is worth it, she said.
“We’re a hockey family,” DiPaolo said. “Our family and friends know that our life is on pause during the season. Through hockey we’ve inherited an entire family of players and their families.”
Nine-year-old James Quinn, of Ocean-side, started playing roller hockey for fun when he was 6. James said he was focused on improving his skills, and that the best part of playing is scoring.
“I sometimes get a little nervous when I let up a goal and we’re losing by a lot,” he said.
Hockey dad Robert Suarez, of Freeport, has two sons — Ryder, 9, and Elias, 7 — in the league. His boys started ice skating five years ago, and that eventually led to hockey, which he said has been a bonding experience for his family.
“It’s not just about the game,” Suarez said. “They’re learning life skills [and] responsibility.”
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