Archive for September, 2008

Quote of the Day

September 18, 2008

Was sitting at my desk at work today, minding my own business writing an article, when I hear the bathroom door open. This is the next thing I heard…

“If there was a belt handed out for blowing up the bathroom, I’d be a blackbelt. A fucking ninja master.”

-Islanders employee, who apparently takes pride in stinking up the bathroom.

Latest Islanders Illustrated Article

September 12, 2008

Here is my latest article that will be published in next months issue of Islanders Illustrated. Enjoy!

 

Home Ice Advantage

Far from the ice ponds in Canada, and a few hundred miles from the talent-infested hockey rinks in Massachusetts, lies an island that screams of hip checks and hat tricks. It’s known as Long Island.

This island, though not usually thought of as a hockey “hotbed,” is in fact full of talented and devoted young athletes, who not only take shots on goal, but take shots at their goal––of reaching the NHL.

Full of stick-handlers who can send a puck through traffic as though there’s an HOV lane on the ice, Long Island continues to produce gifted hockey players with the drive to succeed.

More than two decades removed from the illustrious Islanders dynasty of the 1980’s, there is a resurgence of hockey passion taking over Long Island, and it’s showing in the NHL talent pool. Through top-of-the-line coaches, highly motivated kids, and plenty of available rink time, Long Island is quickly regaining its enthusiasm and commitment to hockey.

And with the emergence of the Islanders Amateur Hockey Development Program, thousands of kids throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties are making a name for themselves at a very young age, in hopes of one day becoming professional hockey players.

A few rising Long Island stars, in particular, are trying their hand at reaching the ultimate hockey player’s dream.

Michael Coppola, a junior on the University of Connecticut men’s hockey team, is one Long Island native who knows all too well what it takes to succeed. He played for the Nassau County Lions, as well as several junior teams in Suffolk County.

For a long time, players like Coppola may not have been given the opportunity they deserved, but young players coming out of Long Island are starting to be recognized for their talents.

“No one really looked at players from Long Island, but now it’s different,” said Coppola. “A lot of big names have helped us.”

Some of the big names Coppola is referring to are players such as Chris Higgins, Eric Nystrom, and Mike Komiserak, all of whom played youth hockey on Long Island, and have since reached the NHL. And those players are all the evidence a young hopeful like Coppola needs to keep his dream alive.

And for the players who have made it to the top after moving through the Long Island system, it is important to return and help others who stand where they once did. It is not uncommon to see the NHLers who hail from Long Island at area rinks during the offseason, participating at youth camps to help spread the same message they learned when they were young skaters.

“I was fortunate to grow up here,” says Higgins, who currently plays for the Montreal Canadiens. “I grew up playing a couple times at Nassau Coliseum, and I had a couple of camps in Hauppauge where some of the Islanders would come teach. I had a lot of good people around me to help me along; Bob Nystrom, Gerry Hart, and Alexander Nikiforov all had pretty big influences on my career and don’t think I’d be where I am today without those guys.”

Nikiforov, has been helping hockey players on Long Island and in Russia for over 20 years. And while he has helped current NHL players like Higgins—and is still lending is hockey knowledge and expertise to up-and-coming Long Island skaters—he refuses to take credit for their success.

“If they really want to get to another level, they will give 100%,” said Nikiforov. “It’s about work ethic and desire.”

One of the young players Nikiforov has worked with is Long Island native, and junior hockey player, Justin Porpora, who plays for the Cortland State Red Dragons. Porpora, who says he was taught important skills and lessons from Nikiforov, has played extensively throughout Long Island, and hopes of making a career out of hockey.

“I first started playing for the Long Island Royals,” said Porpora. “Then I moved to Suffolk PAL, then to the Atlantic Junior Hockey League.”

While playing in the NHL is certainly a dream for guys like Coppola and Porpora, it is not an unrealistic one. Local product Eric Nystrom, son of Islanders legend Bob Nystrom, understands and emphasizes the importance of coaches like Nikiforov, and has encouraging words for younger players trying to reach the top level.

“Nikiforov is a top notch guy who brings a little European flare and is something Long Island hasn’t seen much of,” said Nystrom. “I was fortune enough to work with him and learn the skills, and he was great at teaching us how to skate. At a young age, he instilled a lot of good habits with us, and we’re so lucky to have guys like that.”

Nystrom, who currently plays for the Calgary Flames, has hockey in his blood and believes that having a passion for the sport is one of the most important factors in playing the game at a high level.

“First and foremost you’ve got to have fun,” said Nystrom. “You’ve got to just enjoy being out on the ice and obviously learning skills at a young age and mastering skills is something that you need to do when you’re first getting the technique of hockey. But it’s all about having fun and loving the competition and loving the thrill of competing against somebody else and that’s the best advice I can give.”

Komisarek, a native of West Islip, who currently plays for the Montreal Canadiens, was taught everything he knows about hockey while growing up on Long Island. He has taken the knowledge and skills he’s used from coaches such as Nikiforov, and translated them into a promising NHL career. Komisarek is adamant that there is no reason why a determined player from Long Island can’t duplicate his success.

“I was never the most talented or skilled player” said Komisarek. “But I loved playing hockey and I loved playing the sport, and I loved working at it and getting better. The kids on Long Island have all the skills and the means––from the skating to the equipment. These kids can take it as far as they want to, as long as they work hard at it. If it’s something they want they definitely could achieve playing in the NHL.”

So while the NHL is the ultimate goal for many young Long Island players, it does not have to be an unrealistic one. With all of the programs and experiences the Islanders Amateur Development Program offers, doors that have just started to open for Long Island athletes might one day be blown off the hinges.

 

 

 

Latest Article by yours truly

September 5, 2008

I know it’s a bit lengthy, but here’s the latest article I’ve written fo the Islanders. It’s going in their newest publication, Islanders Illustrated, which is a monthly magazine only distributed to season-ticket holders and at the Coliseum. Its being published in the November issue, and it won’t be online, so I figuered I’d post it here. Again, I know it’s long, but hopefully it will hold your interest long enough to read it…there’s still time to tweak it if you have any suggestions! -J

 

Meghan Mangine isn’t your typical girl from Long Island. Not unless you consider playing hockey on an all boys team, participating against some of the world’s best talent in a Swedish tournament, and winning a gold medal on the first ever U-18 Women’s team, to be typical. Oh and did I mention she has done all of this by the age of 15?

Though not yet old enough to drive a car, Meghan has spent years steering and maneuvering another object: a hockey puck.

Four years younger than her brother Matt, Meghan was always watching him play hockey as a child. While watching Matt develop as a young skater, Meghan too wanted to lace up a pair of skates.

“I used to watch him when I was younger,” says Meghan. “I asked my parents if I could play and they got me started with once a week clinics.”

From then on, Meghan was determined to become a hockey player. She knew it wasn’t a very common activity for girls, but she didn’t care. Starting at the young age of seven, Meghan began her pursuit of a sport typically thought of as a man’s game. But of course, at the naïve age of seven, that didn’t stop her.

“I mainly started playing because, when I saw my brother, it looked fun,” explains Meghan.

What started out as her idea of fun, quickly turned into years of training and league play. Beginning with a season in Mites, Meghan began to take the sport more seriously, and her parents started having her take private lessons.

But not just any private lessons.

Meghan began learning from one of the best instructors and coaches on Long Island, Alexi Nikiferov. Largely responsible for a resurgence in hockey amongst Long Island’s youth, Nikiferov has coached the likes of such former NHL players as Darius Kasperitis and Dana Zubris. His knowledge and love for the sport is passed along to each young skater he mentors, and Meghan is the poster child for this success. Over time, Meghan became one of the best young players on Long Island- male or female.

Along with the help of Nikiferov, and after completing a year in pee-wee minor, Meghan was asked to play for a team from Chicago called “Team America.” The team was to travel to Sweden and play against top-notch competition from all around the world. And if that isn’t overwhelming enough for a young girl, how about being one of just two girls on the roster.

“It was an all-boys team other than one other girl who was a goalie,” says Meghan. “But it was great.”

After competing in Sweden, Meghan then went to Nationals Camp in St. Paul, Minnesota, and was chosen as a forward even though she had never really played the position. But the scouts at the camp discussed her abilities with her coaches, and decided to place her on the first ever women’s Under-18 National Team.

As if skating with the country’s best young hockey players wasn’t rewarding enough, Meghan decided to make even more of a name for herself. Competing in Calgary against other U-18 teams from around the world, Meghan scored the first goal for her team.

“It was crazy,” she remembers. “I remember having a three-on-two, and we were passing the puck, and the puck hit my stick and went in the net. Everyone just went crazy. I was just lost in the moment.”

Lost, but not gone. Meghan would strike again in the Gold Medal game, blasting a goal into the net that almost sent the crowd through the roof.

“There were about 1,000 fans there, and only 100 were American,” explains Meghan. “We had our own little cheering section of parents and they all just went crazy.”

Showing just how much Long Island hockey has developed, Meghan is certainly an inspiration to any girl growing up on the Island, let alone in the world of hockey. She has since begun playing in the North American Hockey Academy in Stowe, Vermont, with hopes of trying out for the U-18 team once again.

For a girl who gets knocked around on the ice, and smashed into the boards on occasion, she certainly has her head on her shoulders. Already having accomplished a lifetime’s worth of achievements, she still tries to better herself on the ice.

“I just want to play the game and get more challenged by other players,” says Meghan. “I hope to keep making the U-18 team, and competing for gold medals.”

Do her goals and dreams stop once she turns 18? She’ll say no faster than she can hockey-stop.

“I’d love to get a Division I scholarship, and I’d like to be on the Olympic team- that would be the ultimate goal for me to reach.”

The road for Meghan Mangine has been one filled with perseverance and success. And although she still can’t drive a car on that road, or pick up her friends for another year, she can sure give that puck a ride!

The new store in town

September 1, 2008

So I was walking Sally today around 5, and we walked our normal path. Everything was the same as usual.

She tried to eat an old piece of pizza in a bush.

She shat on the ONE lawn where the owners of the house were staring right at us (sorry 155 Cherry Ave).

And she sniffed her little heart out, trying to get a sense of her surroundings.

But, one thing was different. While walking down Flint Ave, Sally starting barking at 2 kids sitting at a table on their front lawn. I’ve done this walk over a thousand times with her, and that table had never been there before.

So as we approached the table, a little girl called me over and said, “excuse me mister! would you like to buy something from our new store?”

I figured she was selling lemonade, and I was simply going to say “no thanks” and continue walking Sally. However, I walked up to the table, and saw that this little girl, Julia, and her brother had put a lot of effort into their “store”. They made an “OPEN” sign, they named the store, she made a fake cash register, and she even had store hours (they are closed on labor day).

Sally sat right in front of the table, and Julia told me about her business. She had a few toy cars for sale, a dinasour, a plastic airplane, and a coloring book that came with a free marker. I explained to her that I didn’t have any money on me (or let’s be honest, in general), but she was too sweet to care about that. She insisted that I have something for free. I told her I would feel bad doing it, but she persisted. In fact- she even offered me the 25 cents she had already earned from one “customer”. I could see it on her face that she was upset I wouldn’t take anything, so I explained to her that by my not taking anything, it would give her the opportunity to sell it to someone else. I then told her that I was jealous that she had a good job, while I hadn’t made any money today, and she offered me a position as a security guard. She really made me laugh.

I’ve always been a big fan of little kids – not all – but most. But talking to Julia and her brother was some of the most innocent and funniest conversation i’ve had in a long time. She told me she was nervous about starting 2nd grade at a new school since she just moved to Larchmont, but I told her Chatsworth is a great place and 2nd grade is a lot of fun. And even though she just met me, she really believed me.

I wanted to stay and talk to her and her mom (who was talking to me the whole time as well), but after 20 minutes of listening to her entrepreneurial ideas, I got nervous sally was going to take a dump in front of her store- and I didn’t want to be banned for life.

I got a lot out of my talk with Julia. First, I realized that there’s even more competition than I had thought in the job market today. Second, really young kids can hold an excellent conversation and have more motivation than some of my friends. And lastly, I hadn’t really thought about having kids ANY time soon- and still don’t want any in the near future- but I left the new store on Flint Ave in such a good mood and with a huge smile on my face, and it made me really excited to do fun things like that with my kids one day, and I hope they are just as outgoing as Julia is.

Although I hope my kids have better business skills and don’t give away free money to costumers who don’t have any.