Vincent Granice is the head coach of the defending Suffolk County hockey champions, the Smithtown-Hauppauge Bulls. A retired corrections officer, Granice has been involved in ice hockey his entire adult life, playing in the Coney Island League and the Police Athletic League before stepping into the coaching box. And it’s a labor of love, a volunteer job that began in the 1996-97 season when his son Vincent Jr. began to play before he moved on to play at SUNY Cortland. The off-ice stuff can be a headache, he admits, but on the ice, skating with the kids at practice, the job is still fun for the coaches.
LI Pulse: Where do you find good hockey players on Long Island?
VG: Our players find us and come to try out. The freshman and junior varsity players rise through the organization. We have a great bunch of kids and competitive teams. All three levels have been successful. Smithtown has fielded a team since the 1970s. With a shrinking student population, outside of Sachem and St. Anthony’s, most of the teams in Suffolk are from combined schools—we have combined with Hauppauge for the last two seasons.
LIP: Has the game become more popular lately?
VG: When I played, there might have been five people in the stands. Now the whole family comes out to the games. Grandpa, grandma, mom and dad, brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors. Sometimes they even voice their opinions, whether they played the game or not, but that’s in every sport, I suppose. Coaching and parenting are both skills you learn as you go. I’ve learned that sometimes it’s best to let a shift go by before you correct a player’s mistakes. They learn better when they aren’t defensive. We all need time to cool off.
LIP: Why don’t the schools sponsor the sport directly?
VG: School districts fear the high cost of hockey, so they leave it to the clubs. Ice time is 600 dollars an hour around here, where in other states it might be half that price. There is not enough ice on Long Island for all the athletes who want to play. And hockey is a contact sport. It can be dangerous the way football and lacrosse are, so the cost of insurance is high. Most schools let you use their district logo but that’s about it. After that we’re on our own. They don’t want more of a connection than that.
LIP: What’s the week like for the Smithtown/Hauppauge hockey player?
VG: We practice on full ice for an hour on Thursday afternoons and usually play our games on Mondays at 9:30pm. One contest a week is the norm, but not always. The finals are in February and last year they were televised on the MSG Varsity network, a tremendous high for our kids, so we are being noticed. Newsday has covered us from time to time. Last year we were considered the underdogs to a very good Connetquot team that went 19-1 during the regular season, as did we, splitting our two games. In the finals we came up with a tremendous effort. Our goalie was great, our power play produced every time they took a penalty, and we stuck to our system. I was very proud of our guys.
LIP: What’s the league look like this year?
VG: This year I expect the top five teams to be pretty close: Connetquot, Sachem, Kings Park, Half Hollow Hills and us.
LIP: Do your players concentrate on just hockey?
VG: Not all of them. A lot of our kids are excellent multi-sports athletes. We have lacrosse players, some kids play roller hockey. Some play almost every day for travel hockey teams. Our best all-around player is speedy forward Dan Nelson, a five-tool exceptional athlete who sees the ice and has a high IQ. Dan plays soccer and tennis, too, but he could play hockey at the next level. He’s joined on our top line by Mike Gioia and Nick Lupo. Our best defender is Nick Ambery and of our three varsity goalies, Tom DeRosa is currently the starter.
LIP: Is fighting a part of the game the way it is in the NHL?
VG: In my experience fighting can occur because of the nature of the game. Players do not typically drop their gloves and pull off their helmets but they do get physical. Players who engage in fighting are generally ejected from the game with additional suspensions delivered as needed.