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Ex-LIRR exec, 'father figure' for boys ice hockey league to be honored

Several generations of Patchogue-Medford High School hockey players will gather on the ice Saturday to honor the league's late founder and former Long Island Rail Road vice president of operations, Daniel Cleary Sr.

The inaugural Cleary Cup game will be played at the Ferraro Brothers Ice Center at Eisenhower Park, 1899 Hempstead Tpke., in East Meadow at 11 a.m. The game will include several players from the earliest years of the Patchogue-Medford Raiders Ice Hockey Team, along with several current LIRR employees. Cleary, who died of cancer in 1996 at age 54, formed the team in 1979, in large part to keep neighborhood boys -- including his four sons -- off the street, his son Daniel Cleary Jr., 49, said.

The team, which the elder Cleary formed without sponsorship from the school district, originally ran on a shoestring budget, with practices held in the middle of the night because of the discounted rates for rink time then, Cleary Jr., of Patchogue, said.

"He figured, 'If I have them at the rink at 1 in the morning, then they're not out doing anything stupid,' " said Cleary Jr., who credited his father with bringing together boys from diverse backgrounds and teaching them team values. "There were a lot of kids who didn't have fathers who my father became a father figure to."

Cleary's ragtag team won zero games in its first season, but in a few years became one of Long Island's winningest teams, Cleary Jr. said. In 2007, the Patchogue-Medford Raiders won the Rich Lowis State Tournament.

Several of Cleary's players who went on to work for the LIRR -- including three of his sons -- will play Saturday, said Cleary Jr., the railroad's chief mechanical officer.

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