LI hockey fans relieved lockout's over

Joey Alterman, 27, left, of East Meadow, Kevin

Joey Alterman, 27, left, of East Meadow, Kevin Roberts, 26, center, of Levittown and Bruce Davidson, 26, right, of Wantagh, are seen here at Benchwarmers Sports Bar and Grill in East Meadow. All three are huge hockey fans and are excited that the season will resume for the Islanders and the rest of the league. (Jan. 6, 2012) (Credit: Steven Sunshine)

The apparent end of the four-month National Hockey League lockout brought as much weary relief as happiness to Long Island fans Sunday.

After a junior game at Islanders Iceworks in Syosset, Larry Israeloff and his son, Evan, 11, said that any hockey at all -- even the abbreviated 48-game season that begins Jan. 19, according to reports -- is better than none.

"I'm just glad they didn't knock out the whole year," said Israeloff, 48, a tax attorney from Woodbury.

For Merritt Riley, 47, a New York City police officer from Massapequa and an Islanders fan, the return is bittersweet, capping "a very tough 15 years or so" of what he judged to be underperformance by his team. He would be "very happy" to watch the professional game again, he said. But even if the Islanders win the Stanley Cup this year, "there's always going to be an asterisk."

And a salvaged season can't push back the Islanders' planned departure to Brooklyn in 2015. "Two more years, and then nothing," Riley said.

Outside Dix Hills Ice Arena, Warner Frey and his son Sean saw the bright side. Frey, 41, a New York City police officer from East Northport, argued that a shortened schedule could make the regular season more competitive and bring NFL-style attention to each game. Sean, 6, a first-grader at Dickinson Avenue Elementary School, was just happy that he'd be able to see the Rangers this year.

Inside, Jason Woolley, 41, a phys-ed teacher from Blue Point, took stock as he watched his son, Hunter, 9, tend goal in a junior game.

He was a "die-hard hockey fan" who'd grown up going to Islanders games, Woolley said. But the months-long spectacle of "millionaires fighting billionaires" had cooled his feelings for the professional game. "Neither party has the fans in mind," he said. "My feelings are hurt, put it that way."

On the up side, he foresaw a good season for his Islanders. "They're a young team, a talented team, and they may surprise a few people."

Then there were business owners like Frank Borelli, owner of Borelli's Restaurant in East Meadow, which does brisk business on game nights and often prepares postgame pizzas and heros for hungry visiting teams.

As a businessman, he's excited about the extra cash flow on game nights; as an Islanders fan and season-ticket holder, he admitted to feeling "kind of upset."

He has some free advice for the people in charge of the professional game: "Hopefully, they'll make it rewarding for fans to go back to games. Like if a restaurant owner didn't do the right thing, he'd give something back, show good faith."

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