(Long Island, NY) The Long Island Ducks were launched in the year 2000 as an independent minor league baseball team in the Atlantic League. They have become part of the fabric on the island and fill their beautiful ballpark, Citibank Park in Central Islip, on a regular basis. But some sports fans may be unaware that the team name was originally used for an old hockey club in Suffolk County.
The Long Island Ducks were a member of the Eastern Hockey League from 1959-1973. They were originally known as the New York Rovers and played at the old Madison Square Garden. When they came out east, their home venue was the Long Island Arena, sometimes known as the Commack Arena. Unfortunately this building is no longer there, being replaced by a Target in a shopping center. But for the people who witnessed the games at that drafty, hut shaped building, the charm will never wear off.
The Ducks had a cast of characters that are still talked about today. The most popular player was John Brophy, who is said to be the model behind Paul Newman’s character (Reggie Dunlop of the Charlestown Chiefs) in the hot movie “Slap-Shot”. In a scene from that movie, Dunlop fights a character named Tommy Hanrahan during a game between the Chiefs and the Long Island Ducks. John Brophy was the Eastern League’s most penalized player. He was traded from the Ducks six times and acquired seven times in his career. This is where he belonged and he kept finding his way back.
John Muckler, the former Minnesota North Stars, Edmonton Oilers, Buffalo Sabres and New York Rangers coach, started out as a player on the Ducks and eventually became their coach/general manager/part-owner.
There are so many interesting stories about this franchise. A few quick recaps are as follows:
- The Ducks once spent four days traveling to Johnstown in a snowstorm
- The Midnight Game- the Ducks were delayed for a home game upon returning from the Jamestown trip. They arrived late and put on their uniforms, which had not been cleaned. The game against New Haven started at approximately midnight. The game was filled with brawls.
- One game was delayed because they could not find any pucks, which were later found in an ice cream freezer.
- Al Baron was the team owner and radio announcer. At one home game, some fans started a bonfire in the chilly stands. Baron commented on the air, “This game is being brought to you by the Smithtown Fire Department.”
- The ABA’s New York Nets also played in the Long Island Arena. The new bright lights added for basketball melted the ice.
- A Zamboni driver named Henry crashed through the boards while waving to the crowd.
- The team trainer had to be the back-up goalie because they only carried one. The league also had a spare goaltender that could step in.
It wasn’t all bad, though. The Ducks were successful on the ice. They had a great fan base and would sell out their home games regularly on weekends. They also captured the Eastern League Championship, the Walker Cup, in April 1965.
Eventually with the NHL expansion of the New York Islanders, the Long Island Ducks folded. But they will always be remembered and enjoyed. As John Brophy said, “Once you’re a Duck, you’re a Duck for the rest of your life.”