STAN FISCHLER: Saugerties sets trend with hockey
Published: Sunday, December 11, 2011 in the Daily Freeman
SAUGERTIES is a nifty town in a lot of ways too numerous to mention.
Except, that is, for one of my favorite things: the super-dooper-a-la-Peter T. Hooper Kiwanis Ice Arena.
And, if you’re wondering how an ice box becomes a favorite thing I can tell you in less than half-a-minute.
For two decades I pleaded right here in this column for Kingston to construct a hockey rink and I got to a place called Nowhere-Fast-in-a-Hurry. Meanwhile, an arena was built up U.S. Route 9W in that neat, non-Kingston place called Saugerties.
While this may have disappointed the Kingston crowd, it made me happy because I love hockey and Kiwanis Arena developed one of the most admirable go-after-the-puck programs this side of the Mojave Desert.
MANY folks are responsible for this happy situation in The Big S. But, for the sake of political correctitude I’ll pick one male and one female in that non-alphabetical order. (And if you have any complaints about that go talk to my wife, or Sylvia Rozzelle, my town of Olive clerk ... which really means she’s the mayor.)
But back to Saugerties.
The man who has been making hockey work there is a chap named Pat Caffrey.
Anyone who knows the difference between a puck and a social tea biscuit will tell you one thing about Pat and that is he has done more than anyone between Catskill and Newburgh to get a terrific hockey program up and running.
That, by the way, explains why he now sits proudly on the board of Saugerties Youth Hockey and why you should listen up to how a program sprouted from scratch, or, more realistically, from natural ice that melted too often.
“THE program evolved out of the Hurley Rec. Hockey Group, that existed for many years on the outdoor rink built off of Dewitt Mills Road ...,” Pat explains. “The program started in the 1970s and the rink was about two-thirds the size of regulation and was always at the mercy of Mother Nature.” Which means that if the temperature went above freezing, every stickhandler went into mourning and prayed for a new Ice Age.
In 1997, when the rink in Saugerties first opened, the Hurley folks got the message, abandoned the outdoor Rec. Center location and moved its program.
Shortly thereafter the name was changed to Saugerties Youth Hockey and, like Jack’s beanstalk, the program grew and grew and grew.
CAFFREY: “In 1999 we started out with approximately 50 boys and girls in the program. They were around the ages of 8-12 years old. Now we have more than 200 youth players ranging from ages 4-6 up to 15-18 years old.”
In a sense the Saugerties program is an equal opportunity operation. You wanna play, you play – on an assortment of levels. These include “Learn to Play,” made up of boys and girls ages 4-10, “Cross Ice,” boys and girls ages 6-10 and “Full Ice House teams.”
“The Saugerties Mustangs,” is a team made up of six boys travel teams, and lastly, but certainly not least, “The Saugerties Fillies,” a girls travel team ages 14 and under.
“In the past, we’d lose a lot of older players to other programs,” Caffrey explains. “At one point we had multiple all-girls teams, but again, better skilled players would move on to higher level girls programs.”
Caffrey takes understandable pride in his alumni. For example, Pat Mullen is a freshman on the Marist College’s men’s club team and Tanner Cornachini and Alex Ulrich both play at Hudson Valley Community College. Olivia Hackett was a member of the Hudson Valley Empire State Games women’s team along with Caroline Crump.
HOCKEY is not a sport for the poor. Sticks alone cost up to $200. With that in mind, the Saugerties program understands this issue and has reacted to hockey economics.
“We offer scholarships/financial hardship assistance to anyone who cannot afford the fee or equipment costs,” says Caffrey. “Plus we sponsor a used equipment Swap-and-Sell event at least once a year.
“We’ve seen significant growth. Our program is much more affordable than neighboring hockey programs, and on top of that we offer several levels of age and competitive play.”
A hockey program automatically involves moms and dads. They can be a handful and sometimes you wish you could put them in the penalty box for a two-minute cool down.
Caffrey: “Compared to other sports I’ve coached I can safely say we’ve been extremely blessed that our youth hockey families have been wonderful. Youth sports often needs a reality check. The odds of a child advancing to an elite level are very steep, so they better be having fun instead.”
TERESA MARZEC of Saugerties – a refugee from Syracuse winters – is one of the best hockey moms. If I had an hour of your time, I’d list all the support Marzec The Magnificent does for the local ice program but we don’t have that luxury.
Suffice to say that Teresa is living-hockey proof that pain and progress are inseparable. The pain was laboring through the outdoor Hurley ice-non-ice situation and the progress is what we see as she indefatigably helps out at the Kiwanis building.
“Outside, at the Hurley rink,” remembers Marzec, a physical therapist and trainer for the hockey teams, “the parents had to use shovels to remove the snow and smooth out the ice. Then, we’d spray the ice with a garden hose.
“The only warmth we got was from a small hut with space heaters. Or we stood outside and threw wood into a metal barrel that had a fire going.”
That, in a nutshell, explains why folks like Teresa and Pat are so grateful for the warm, hospitable Kiwanis Rink and so willing to devote their time to it.
Author-columnist-commentator Stan "The Maven" Fischler resides in Boiceville and New York City. His column appears each week in the Sunday Freeman.