Bryan Wish says the time is now for the South Fork to have high school ice hockey teams, and he’s prepared to facilitate that.
Having been involved with the Southampton Ice Rink on County Road 39 in Southampton for the past five years, the past three as its director, Wish has seen the youth programs there continue to grow and is confident that those numbers could translate well into a strong high school ice hockey program that would include student-athletes from Southampton, Pierson, Ross and East Hampton school districts.
Wish held the first informative meeting at the Hampton Road Firehouse in Southampton this past Thursday, February 27, to what he said was a strong turnout.
All high school hockey teams in the county play in the Suffolk County High School Hockey League, which is not sanctioned by Section XI, the county’s governing body of high school athletics. While all teams in the league use local school districts to determine their rosters, the teams are in no way affiliated with the schools and are therefore considered more club teams than school teams.
There are three different levels within the league based on grades. The freshman league includes seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders. Junior varsity includes ninth-, 10th- and 11th-graders, and varsity includes any high school players including seniors.
Wish, 31, has coached teams within the SCHSHL, most recently for his alma mater, Eastport-South Manor, from which he graduated in 2007. No longer a coach with ESM, Wish said he’s “acting GM” for Southampton, but his set role is not written in stone yet.
His first priority is building what will be a board of directors for the program, which he hopes to have in place by the end of this month.
The plan, though, is to have the program in place for the 2020-2021 season and to start holding tryouts for the team as early as this April. The season starts in September and includes 20 games spread out to the following February and March. Games are typically played at night, around 8 p.m., so those who play other JV or varsity sports through their schools can usually play both.
“For us here in Southampton, I don’t expect we’re going to come in, in the first season, and take the league by storm,” he said. “It’s a process. You have to build your teams, earn respect, and really get the kids interested.”
Southampton would be the main hub of the proposed team, but SCHSHL rules allow up to two additional districts to join that team as long as they are neighboring, which allows Pierson and therefore Ross and East Hampton to join as well.
Wish said that East Hampton having its own rink in Buckskill was a no brainer to having those student-athletes join the fold. Practices will be held at both Buckskill and Southampton Ice Rinks, but all league games are played at The Rinx in Hauppauge.
Wish admitted that might make things logistically tough, especially for those coming from the outstretches of East Hampton, such as Montauk, Amagansett and Springs. But he’s prepared to make it work in any way he can.
On top of the traveling, hockey tends to be one of the more expensive team sports, mainly due to the equipment needed to play, but there are also league fees and ice time that needs to be paid for.
Wish is well aware of that, which is why he already had a proposed budget ready for those in attendance at last week’s meeting. The per player cost, he estimated, would be around $3,000, which is on the high end, but that would include equipment, league fees, ice/practice time, gym time and off-ice training during the offseason. Most teams, Wish said, practice once a week. That budget included two practices per week.
“That cost is a plan to create a great program,” he said. “You can downsize it to where it’s maybe $1,200 per player, but then you’re just playing the games and practicing every other week, and to me that’s not creating a strong program. I don’t want to take advantage of this, but we do happen to live in an area where people are financially more sound. When people want to get involved in a program, they want to see that it’s a strong program, offering all of these things, becoming better athletes and, quite honestly, will pay the extra money for something that’s great rather than take the cheaper route.”
Wish added that with Southampton and East Hampton being such tight-knit communities with solid businesses supporting one another, fundraisers and sponsorships will go a long way as well.
“We talked about that the other night, and we have some people volunteering who are GMs at some of these golf courses, who own small businesses in town, restaurants, town board members, fire department members, a lot of good people who can help get some funds and defray the costs,” he explained.
Southampton Ice Rink currently offers under-17, under-13 and under-10 hockey programs, but Wish said for the hockey teams to sustain any sort of success, he will have to start even younger programs from those in kindergarten to sixth grade.
“My big thing is I want to get the teams in place,” he said. “I don’t think it’s completely important at this time on how competitive they are the first year or two. To me, let’s get the teams in place. I think I can do a good job of growing the game from the grassroots level. It’s great that we have all these players from seventh to 12th grade, but if we don’t focus on the K through sixth graders, in two or three years it’s all going to evaporate. So we really need to work on getting these young guys involved.”