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Islanders may be nearing deal on ice time for youth group

Twin Rinks Ice Center in Eisenhower Park on

Twin Rinks Ice Center in Eisenhower Park on Saturday, May 16, 2015 in East Meadow. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The New York Islanders have agreed to elements of a deal to allow Long Island’s oldest youth hockey organization to continue playing at the team’s Eisenhower Park practice facility.

Attorneys for the Islanders and the Gulls Amateur Hockey Association made progress in settling the dispute at a hearing Wednesday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Central Islip.

But it was unclear whether the Gulls will accept the Islanders offer of nearly 25 hours of combined weekly ice time at Northwell Health Ice Center at Eisenhower Park and Iceworks in Syosset, both owned by the team.

The Gulls want six more hours of ice time at either location. If a deal is not reached in the coming weeks, the Gulls season would be canceled.

“We are offering them everything we have,” Islanders attorney John McEntee said in court Wednesday of the available ice time at the two rinks.

But Gulls attorneys said the Islanders are trying to cripple the youth organization, which serves 350 children ages 5 through 18, in an effort to take over their operations.

A notice on Northwell’s website this week reads: “There is currently no agreement for ice time for the Gulls at the Northwell Health Ice Center in East Meadow or at Iceworks in Syosset for the 2016-2017 season.”

“This is just part of their efforts to kill the Gulls,” the group’s attorney, Jeffrey Greilsheimer, said of the online notice. “They have been trying to prevent us from getting ice time since they took over.”

Northwell, previously known as Twin Rinks, opened in 2014 as a partnership between Nassau and investors including Joel and Ronald Friedman and brothers Chris and Peter Ferraro, both former NHL players.

Construction costs jumped from $15 million to $52 million, and the owners fell behind on license payments to the county. In 2015, Twin Rinks filed for bankruptcy, setting off a public auction of their assets.

Then-Islanders owner Charles Wang won a bid to purchase the building for $8 million and transform it into the team’s practice facility. As part of the deal, Wang accepted the Gulls’ five-year licensing agreement to play at Northwell.

In the first year of the agreement, the Gulls averaged 51 hours of ice time per week, at a cost of $375 to $500 per hour.

But the team would not match those hours for 2016/2017 season. After efforts to strike a deal failed, the team sold much of Northwell’s ice time to other youth leagues, including teams sponsored by the Islanders themselves.

The Islanders on Wednesday agreed to give the Gulls 12 hours of weekly ice time at Northwell and 12 1/2 hours at Iceworks. The two sides also agreed on a price for the ice time and the Gulls said they would not seek damages against the team.

But McEntee said the team could not guarantee the additional six hours of ice time sought by the Gulls.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Goodman urged the Gulls to take the “imperfect” deal. If they refuse and seek another hearing, a decision, he said, would come after the Gulls season is set to begin in September.

“I don’t think either side wants to hurt a group of kids that want to skate,” Goodman said.

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