Riley Wood tried figure skating first but disliked it immensely. She decided to try hockey after watching her brother play. But the 16-year-old, who was born in California and lived in Florida before her family moved to Setauket, did not take an immediately liking to that sport, either.
That changed once she joined the Girls Elite Program at Northwell Health Ice Center in East Meadow.
Alexis Moed started the program in 2016 with 25 players. It now boasts 100 girls, ages 8-19, over six teams with a development program for girls ages 6-7 soon to be initiated.
"A major part for me is opportunity," Wood said. "With Alexis, it’s a completely different feel to the game."
The program’s participants were at the Cradle of Aviation in Uniondale on Wednesday night for the first women’s empowerment night, with a panel discussion featuring prominent local female executives, Moed, MSG Networks analyst A.J. Mleczko and moderated by MSG’s Islanders’ host Shannon Hogan.
"It’s very nice to have an image of what you want to portray yourself to be," said Megan Stake, 16, of Cold Spring Harbor.
Moed, who grew up in Muttontown, played at Boston College and is the general manager of the women’s Connecticut Whale of the Premier Hockey Federation, described the Girls Elite Program as one run by women, for women with females comprising the majority of staff and coaches.
"The reason why I started it was really to give the girls on Long Island an opportunity that I didn’t have growing up playing hockey on the Island," said Moed, who commuted to Connecticut as a youth player. "That really isn’t feasible for most families."
"We had nothing like this," said Mleczko, who was born in Nantucket, Massachusetts, led Harvard to an NCAA title in 1999 and won a gold medal with Team USA at the 1998 Winter Olympics and a silver in 2002. "I played hockey with boys through bantam. Having a program not just with girls, but with female coaches and female mentors, would have meant a lot."
Stake, too, is playing varsity high school hockey on a boys team. But she said playing for the Girls Elite Program has "given me confidence in school, in my social life, in all walks."
Her friend, Sophia Luciano, 17, of Garden City, said she met Moed while attending the camp run by the Islanders’ Matt Martin at Northwell Health Ice Center six years ago just as she was beginning to play hockey.
"I started skating with Alexis two times a week for a year," Luciano said. "I tried out for the under-12 team but Alexis advised me just to practice for the first year."
It was a solid plan: Luciano was the U16 captain both of her years on the squad.