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Year-round indoor hockey rink coming to Riverhead?

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO  |  The ice skating rink at Stotzky Park in Riverhead.

Fed up with the commute to Hauppauge several times a week, a group of hockey parents are hoping to build a rink in the Riverhead area for sport and recreational use.

Wading River residents John Engelhardt and Peter Bendzlowicz plan to meet with town officials later this week in an effort to find a suitable site for a rink — and how they’d go about funding it — which they say is much-needed not only for local residents, but for the entire East End.

Currently, Suffolk County’s only year-round hockey facility is at The Rinx in Hauppauge.

The two local men appeared on Ann Ligouri’s ‘Sports Innerview’ show on WFAN over the weekend introducing the idea. Mr. Engelhardt told the host that after signing his son up for hockey last fall, he started talking to other parents who were at the games or practices — and they weren’t the only ones who were weary from the long hauls up-Island.

“I’d start trying to carpool and I’d say, ‘You’re coming from Montauk? I thought my ride from Wading River was bad. You’re from Greenport? My half-hour commute isn’t so bad I guess,'” he recalled.

So far, the core group of about a half dozen parents have already organized a golf fundraiser at Southampton’s Sebonack Golf Club. The Sept. 14 event will feature members of the New York Islanders past and present, including Bobby Nystrom and John Tavares, the two told Ms. Ligouri.

Proceeds from the fundraiser could be set up in a similar fashion to Denise Lucas’ effort to Move the Animal Shelter. The Riverhead resident has led the charge to hold many fundraisers around town over the past few years and is backing the funding for the relocation of the town shelter from Youngs Avenue to Grumman Boulevard. Dollars raised by her organization are being handed over to the town and earmarked for the purposes of a shelter.

But the thought of bringing a hockey rink to Riverhead isn’t necessarily a novel one, after a recent effort to bring a rink with artificial ice lost steam for a couple of reasons.

According to Councilman George Gabrielsen — the Town Board liaison to the Recreation Committee, who also served on it for 16 years prior to being elected — the artificial ice the town and the Business Improvement District looked into purchasing a couple of years ago simply wasn’t as fast as regular ice used in rinks.

“We weren’t impressed with that,” he said.

The proposed location for the ice rink — which would have doubled as an open-air pavilion, since carpets could be placed on top of them — also proved to be the wrong spot. The councilman said that, due to its location close to the Peconic River, “it literally would have floated away, the way it was designed.”

Currently, the town recreation department offers an outdoor rink during the winter seasons, though availability is based on the weather.

The chief operating officer for a Colorado-based nonprofit that aides hockey rinks said serious study should be taken before the effort to build any rink is made in earnest.

“Unfortunately, many people don’t spend the money to do a feasibility study ahead of time, and just don’t have the demand,” said Jeff Theiler with Serving the American Rinks.

According to Mr. Theiler, generally about 100,000 people can support a single rink — though that’s an average and several other factors are at play. For instance, a town of 8,000 people in Minnesota may support two sheets of ice while that number would obviously differ in the southern U.S.

Glen Hefferan, president of the Atlantic Amateur Hockey Association, an affiliate of USA Hockey, said that in order for a new rink to survive, it should cater to beyond the hockey moms and dads.

“Rinks run into trouble when they tend to want to serve elite talent all the time,” he said.

Mr.Engelhardt and Mr. Bendzlowicz said they look forward to serving clientele that extends beyond those in hockey pads.

“This could be a family outing; it’s great exercise,” Mr.Engelhardt, a Riverhead High School grad, said on Sports Innerviews, also mentioning figure skating.

The two said that according to USA Hockey, about 250 players are currently registered east of William Floyd Parkway. Building off that number, they hope to see those currently involved with the sport jump considerably. While 12 teams are currently in the Suffolk County High School Hockey League, none are located east of the parkway.

Mr. Engelhardt said he’d like to see a rink built around the downtown area, something the town’s community development director, Christine Kempner echoed.

“That would be great,” she said. “That could bring huge crowds of hockeygoers in the winter and to have a year-round facility would be nice.”

Bringing the rink downtown could prove to be a wise financial choice as well. According to Ms. Kempner, the town has a $100,000 downtown revitalization grant that could help in constructing the facility, though locations are limited. Mr. Engelhardt said he’s received one rough estimate from an engineer who’s involved in the efforts that building a rink could cost as little as $500,000. However, discussions later this week will help narrow those sites down — which will ultimately determine the cost of the project.

The group of parents also plan on meeting with Southampton Town officials, though no meetings have been set as of yet.

For more information about the group’s September fundraiser call Sebonack Golf Club at 287-4444.

PHOTO: File credit, Barbaraellen Koch