Cory Lillie and Kyle Solomon share a passion for ice hockey, and they hope it is contagious.
The friends, both East Hampton natives, have returned to the area and are now hard at work creating a high school ice hockey team that would call the Buckskill Winter Club’s outdoor ice rink in East Hampton home. The team would be open to high school students from East Hampton, Southampton, Ross, and Pierson, and Lillie’s and Solomon’s goal is to see the team compete with other high school teams in Suffolk County in the future.
Lillie, 25, and Solomon, 27, caught the ice hockey bug when they were kids, starting off by playing roller hockey in Amagansett before branching out to ice hockey as they grew older. Their commitment to the sport involved lots of time in the car, traveling to western Suffolk and even Nassau County for games and practice.
They extended their careers to college, with Lillie playing at the Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston, while Solomon played at the University of Maine.
Lillie graduated recently, and got a job as the manager at Buckskill. Creating a high school ice hockey team, he said, was his first order of business.
It also has been a longtime goal of Buckskill owner Doug DeGroot since he opened the club a decade ago, but he said it wasn’t until recently that the initiative grew any legs. Several factors have come together at the right time, DeGroot noted, starting with the hiring of Lillie.
“We finally had somebody, in Cory, who was willing to take it and run with it,” DeGroot said.
DeGroot added that the support from both the East Hampton and Southampton school districts has been great. East Hampton High School Principal Adam Fine is a fan of the sport, with young children who play on club ice hockey teams, DeGroot said, and he added that Southampton Athletic Director Darren Phillips has been instrumental in getting support for the team.
“The catalyst was that we had somebody, Cory, who it personally meant a lot to, and he recruited Kyle,” DeGroot added. “It’s just so great, because you know they’re totally into it.”
The team, which will be called the East End Sharks, is open to several schools in the area, and Lillie said he already has commitments from 14 students, including a female goalie. Lillie and Solomon want to provide budding ice hockey enthusiasts, and those with some experience, with the opportunity they did not have when they were in school—the chance to pursue the sport they love without having to travel up-island, or spend too much money to do so.
“We felt there was an untapped market out in the Hamptons for kids that wanted to play hockey competitively,” Lillie said. “When we grew up, roller hockey was popular for kids our age, but as we got older, kids that wanted to transition into ice hockey either couldn’t afford it or couldn’t take the trip up the island.”
Lillie said the ultimate goal is for the team to join the Suffolk County High School Hockey League for the 2015-16 season, though he admits there are a lot of steps to make that a reality. Those steps include registering the team with USA Hockey, getting clearance from the league itself and adding even more players to the fold.
The team will still require plenty of financial support, even if it does eventually join the county’s high school league. Unlike other varsity sports, the high school ice hockey teams in Suffolk are not supported within the parameters of the school budget, so they still need to raise money to pay for the expenses associated with the sport, including paying for their uniforms and other gear, as well as ice time and travel expenses.
Lillie is not deterred by those hurdles, however.
“We’re trying to get a group of kids that are interested and prove that this can be done,” he said.
Lillie said that, ideally, the team needs to have at least 18 skaters, plus one or two goalies. He added the team could carry as many as 25 players, and that they won’t turn anyone away or make cuts.
Practice will not get under way until the weather cooperates, which Lillie estimated would be around Thanksgiving, at the earliest. He added that DeGroot has been generous in subsidizing ice time for the team, adding that he’d like to apply for nonprofit status so that the team can accept donations from local businesses to help pay for a scoreboard, jerseys and other equipment, as well as future traveling costs.
Lillie and Solomon will be assisted on the coaching staff by East Hampton resident Scott Rawson, who played ice hockey while attending Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and Kelly Brennan, a history teacher at the Ross School who played field hockey, lacrosse and ice hockey in high school, and field hockey at St. Lawrence University.
With an enthusiastic coaching staff and the support of the community, DeGroot hopes this will finally be the year that his dream of housing an ice hockey team on the East End becomes a reality.
“We really think it’s going to turn into something great,” he said.