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Kids Have Fun At Winter Classic

It was all fun and games at the fourth annual Winter Classic Hockey tournament at the Town of Oyster Bay Ice Skating Center in Bethpage on Saturday, Feb. 8. Young adults and kids of all ages from the Long Island Blues Hockey team faced off against three other teams in the event that gives individuals with special needs the opportunity to play ice hockey in an accommodating setting.

“I’m very proud that the Town of Oyster Bay is once again hosting this event at the renowned Town of Oyster Bay Ice Skating Center in Bethpage,” said Town Supervisor John Venditto, to the crowd on hand. “Three other teams, the East Coast Jumbos, the New Jersey Dare Devils and the New Jersey Avalanche have been invited to the event and will be participating.”

The teams played a total of four games, starting at 3:30 p.m. and ending at 7:30 p.m. Admission for the event was free.

Michael Russo, founder of the Long Island Blues team, said he started the program 10 years ago so his son, Nicholas, who has autism, could play hockey.

“My other two sons played hockey and he wanted to be able to do it, too,” said Russo. “We started out in Freeport in a small rink with eight other kids and it grew into a big thing. Last year we had 35 to 40 kids on the team.”

The kids, who include Paul Weinberg of North Massapequa and 17-year-old, Mike Israelton of Bethpage, do drills and practice once a month in preparation for the Winter Classic.

“I love the sport because there is a lot of action and team chemistry and it is so much fun,” said Israelton, who has been part of the Blues for four years and suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome. “We had a very good time tonight and it was an exciting game. I’m sorry we lost, though.”

Weinberg, who has been on the Blues for seven years, says he likes being on the team because of the plays he gets to make on the ice.

“I like being able to communicate on the ice with my teammates and making key plays to help my team.”

Laura Russo, who helped form the team with her husband, said that the team and the league is made up of kids and young adults up to 30 years of age with conditions such as Down Syndrome, autism and ADHD.

“The Long Island Blues is a private hockey team with people who have special needs. The age ranges of people on the team include kids from five years to young adults up to thirty years old.”

On the Sunday after the game the team participated in its Sunday Outdoor Classic at the Syosset Outdoor Rink at 7:30 a.m. Matt Carkner, of the New York Islanders stopped by to cheer the kids on and sign autographs.