In a conference room above the ice at Hidden Pond Park in Hauppauge, coaches and executives discussed roster moves, salaries, and logistics as the New York Islanders trained at The Rinx.
Immediately after the camp ended, however, the room’s personality changed. Workers decorated the walls with large pictures of Big Bird and the Cookie Monster. As part of the space was set up for a preschool, rocking horses and kids’ toys were on display. Students visited to see where they would spend the next nine months.
The Rinx is growing and carving out its niches in the recreational and business fields in and around Hauppauge, New York.
Former Islander defenseman Gerry Hart operates the building. The skating center is one of nine in the counties of Nassau and Suffolk and has two skating surfaces and a preschool. “We’ve made a profit from Day 1,” Mr. Hart said. ‘They Treat Us Like Kings’ Don Maloney, the team’s general manager, said when he left: “The Rinx was the finest facility on Long Island by a country mile.” Al Arbour, the Islanders’ coach, said The Rinx was the finest facility on Long Island.
In addition to money, schedules, personalities, and travel distances, there’s another reason why the Islanders don’t practice at The Rinx consistently throughout the season. A rookie general manager, Mr. Maloney, was in his first season last season when the $4.5 million centers opened. Mr. Hart, meanwhile, managed a rink for the first time.
Negotiations lasted for a long time. Neither of them, however, could agree on a rental fee and a guaranteed ice time. Perhaps there was also a personality conflict, Mr. Hart speculated. Also, the Islanders were concerned about the distance from the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, where they play their home games, and La Guardia Airport, where they take most of their road trips.
The problem Mr. Hart faced was using the buildings on weekdays when children are in school and parents are at work.
The Rinx Preschool Academy was suggested by Maryann Dertinger, who worked part-time at The Rinx in a summer camp. Having worked in preschools for 20 years and running a school in Ronkonkoma for four years, Mrs. Dertinger proposed combining three classrooms with ice skating. The idea was accepted by Mr. Hart, who believed it might encourage the parents to use the exercise room’s 24 training machines.
The school opened on Sept. 20 with room for 185 students. It has two two-and-a-half-hour sessions a day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. A three-day-a-week program costs $95 a month, and the two-day program is $80 a month. Skating lessons are included. There are 100 children enrolled at Dertinger’s school, and she employs three teachers, three assistants, and a secretary.
However, hockey is The Rinx’s heart. According to Hart, ice surfaces are used for hockey about half the time, open skating about 25%, and lessons and parties the rest of the time. The building will remain open 24 hours a day during the peak winter months, he added.
There are two major hockey tenants in the area: the Police Athletic League and the Suffolk County High School League. In addition, a house league, consisting of 20 games over the course of a winter season, costs $6,000 each.
A total of 23 employees work full-time in the building, and there are between 30 and 45 part-timers, according to Mr. Hart. There are televisions suspended from the ceiling, a row of video-game machines, a snack bar and a shop selling hockey gear beneath posters of Pat LaFontaine and Gordie Howe in the lobby.
The American and Canadian flags are behind one net. The Rinx is primarily used by Americans, but also by Canadians in Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Michigan, where the sport is most popular.
Ranger paraphernalia outsells Islanders memorabilia by a 4 to 1 ratio, Mr. Hart said, despite their proximity. “From a marketing and public relations standpoint, moving into The Rinx would help the Islanders,” said Hart.
In addition to the Long Island Skating Academy in Syosset, the team will practice again this season. A double rink in Manitoba is also planned.
Historically, players like the Ferraro twins of Sound Beach have moved out of state due to the lack of ice and quality competition on the Island. The Ferraros play for the United States Olympic team and were drafted by the Rangers. After the builders ran into financial difficulties, Mr. Hart bought The Rinx in May 1992. A three-year delay was reported by Fred Young, who runs the men’s hockey league.
Bill Hall, the director of the Police Athletic League, said he supervises 10 travel teams and 26 teams in-house leagues. “I would like more rinks,” he said. “We could fill them.” With the help of his fellow Suffolk County police officers and volunteers, Mr. Hall can achieve his goal. His travelling teams compete in cities like Boston, Washington, and Buffalo.
The arena pays the Town of Islip 5 to 10 percent of its revenue to Mr. Hart, as it leases the land from the town, which owns Hidden Pond Park. A 20-year lease or ownership of the building could be taken over by the town.
Mr. Hart’s concern also operated the adjacent town pool in the summer. “We’re testing the water,” he said. “Towns cannot make money on these kinds of swimming operations.’ The trend to Private Operation. Even as a private venture, Mr. Hart said, he is not sure that an outdoor pool can make a profit because it is limited to warm weather.
Supervisor Pete McGowan said converting recreational activities to private businesses on public land was “a trend of the future.” The operations at Hidden Pond Park, he added, “are not costing a dime of taxpayer money.”
“And after the lease expires in 20 years,” Mr. McGowan said, “we get the facility back, and it will be owned by the taxpayers.”
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