Riverhead Town Board members joined representatives of Peconic Hockey Foundation for a ceremonial groundbreaking at Veterans Memorial Park March 29. Photo: Alek Lewis

Riverhead Town and Peconic Hockey Foundation officials celebrated the groundbreaking for construction of a hockey rink facility at Veterans Memorial Park yesterday.

Contractors began work on the foundation for the project, which will include an indoor NHL-sized rink and an outdoor deck hockey rink on roughly 1.5 acres of town-owned land. A 15-year agreement with the nonprofit to bring the facility to the Calverton park was unanimously approved by the Town Board in October. 

“I am extremely grateful for Peconic Hockey Foundation, who helped dream of this,” said Council Member Ken Rothwell, the Town Board member who has championed the project. “This is gonna be an incredible project for all of Riverhead, for outside Riverhead, for the whole East End of Long Island. This is something that has been a long time in the thought process. Many people doubted us, but we’re here today and we’re moving forward. And it’s a great day for Riverhead.”

Peconic Hockey Foundation, which has operated throughout the East End at seasonal outdoor rinks on the South Fork, has been looking for a more permanent home to host hockey programs for the last few years and had been in negotiations with Riverhead for a site since at least 2020. Suffolk County currently has only three indoor ice rinks, located in Dix Hills, Kings Park and Hauppauge, and East End hockey players of all ages travel long distances at all hours of the day and night for ice time.

The organization was founded in 2015 by Caryn and Troy Albert of Wading River and has created scholarships, sponsored free clinics and events, and formed a team, the Peconic Wildcats. The group is also supported by Jon Ledecky, co-owner of the New York Islanders.

“There’s not enough to do in the winter on the East End of Long Island. There’s no skiing and there’s not much sledding, and it’s tough to keep ice frozen. So we’ve had this dream forever, to be able to start a hockey rink out here for the kids to go ice skating on,” said Troy Albert, the organization’s president. “And thanks to the councilman and the Town of Riverhead, we finally were granted all of our permits and came together on agreement and we’re building a rink for the kids on the East End. So we’re very excited about that.”

“After eight years of working on this, that it’s actually coming to fruition, we’re so excited,” said Caryn Albert, a board member. “And just to have something for the community and for the kids, we can’t believe it’s actually happening. And I want to thank everybody because it really does take a village and without everybody here it wouldn’t have happened.”

Under the agreement with the town, Peconic Hockey will be responsible for constructing the hockey facility, which includes the ice rink under a bubble dome. Peconic Hockey would then donate the facility to the town and operate it through a license agreement. Peconic Hockey officials said construction should take roughly two to three months.

“I want to thank Peconic [Hockey], as well. But the hard work of Councilman Ken Rothwell, in particular, among all the rest of the Town Board, was instrumental in making sure that this happened,” Council Member Frank Beyrodt said.

Council Member Tim Hubbard said Peconic Hockey has brought a “tremendous package” to the town and that the project will be a ”huge feather in the cap of the Town of Riverhead.”

“We know how this is going to work out. We know the excitement for hockey in the area,” Hubbard said. “The people that travel from East Hampton, Montauk, Orient, all the way up to Hauppauge for the closest ice — it’s crazy. And we’re going to fill this place up in no time.”

The hockey rink is being built on vacant grassland located on the west side of the park, which has yet to be developed. The property where the rink is being built is owned by the town but technically not dedicated parkland, town officials have said, which allows them to avoid concerns of parkland alienation. The construction project includes the expansion of the park’s parking to support the facility and the construction of a bathroom facility. The Riverhead Town Board has also committed to spending $150,000 a year to bring electricity to the facility.

“We always knew we wanted to do this project, and Riverhead is the perfect place on the whole East End for this kind of project,” Peconic Hockey Board Member Chris Keber said. “The confluence of the two forks, the end of the Long Island Expressway, the presence of a lot of stuff to do [and] to attract people, the limited service hotels, water parks, outlet malls, the aquarium — there’s so much going on in Riverhead that made it obvious to us to literally put our stakes in the ground here.”

Peconic Hockey officials also thanked their contractors, some of whom are donating services and materials for the project.

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Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Email: alek@riverheadlocal.com