The last time Adam Fox played on a team that had other guys on it from Long Island, it was January of 2017, when he was part of the United States team that won the gold medal at the World Junior Championships in Montreal.
Fox, a Jericho native, had three assists in the gold medal game against Canada, and Long Beach’s Charlie McAvoy was the Player of the Game with a goal and an assist. Jeremy Bracco, of Freeport, was a major part of that team, as well.
But Fox, a 22-year-old defenseman entering his second year with the Rangers, can now bust chops about Long Island traffic and where to get the best bagels right in the Rangers’ locker room, after the Rangers signed a couple of Long Islanders, defenseman Anthony Bitetto, of Island Park, and goaltender Keith Kinkaid, of Farmingville, as free agents in October. The Rangers also signed forward Anthony Greco, a Queens native, to add depth.
That gives the Rangers three Long Island guys on their roster heading into training camp, which opens on Sunday.
"Hockey on Long Island has grown, and they’ve even got a D 1 college team [LIU] recently,’’ Fox said last week, as the Rangers players got ready for camp by skating together in small groups at the team’s Tarrytown, N.Y., practice facility. "It's definitely special for us to be from Long Island and be on the Rangers and hopefully inspire more hockey players to come out of Long Island and just kind of help grow the game there.’’
Three Long Island guys in one NHL locker room at the same time is not something that happens often – or ever.
"I've had, like, maybe an upstate New York guy [as a teammate], or something along those lines,’’ said Kinkaid, who played college hockey at Union College, in Schenectady, N.Y. "But not really this many Long Islanders. So, it's pretty cool.’’
Kinkaid and Fox didn’t know each other before they became teammates, but both had skated with Bitetto in past summers. And while Kinkaid, 31, and Bitetto, 30, would ordinarily be the veterans showing the ropes to Fox, in this case it is the youngster who is a core piece of the team, while the other two are trying to fit in. Kinkaid enters camp behind Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev on the goalie depth chart, while Bitetto, who played 51 games last season for the Winnipeg Jets, will be battling for a spot on the roster.
The three haven’t actually spent time in the same locker room together yet, as the NHL’s Covid-19 protocol regarding small group, pre-camp training limits the number of players who can work out together. So the Long Island guys haven’t quite taken over the locker room.
"We're not really a Long Island clique or anything,’’ Fox said with a chuckle. "Anthony, too, has that Long Island Italian [persona], so we differ from that a little. He's a little more talkative than me, and isn't afraid to say stuff.’’
For the moment, Bitetto and Kinkaid have been working on getting to know some of their other teammates. Bitetto has been impressed by No. 1 draft pick Alexis Lafreniere, and he seems to have bonded with Tony DeAngelo, a fellow defenseman, who comes from South Jersey.
"Right now, it's really the two Italians, me and DeAngelo, going back and forth,’’ Bitetto said.
Still, Bitetto said he is thrilled to be part of a fraternity of Long Island NHLers, bridging the prior generation – the likes of Matt Gilroy and Chris Higgins and Mike Komisarek – and the younger group, led by Sonny Milano, McAvoy and Fox. And both he and Kinkaid believe there will be more future pros coming from Long Island, with its large population and multitude of rinks.
"I think the Rangers and the Islanders have done a lot with the community to grow hockey in the area,’’ Bitetto said. "There's more rinks than there ever was in Long Island, even when I was a kid… I mean, There's two rinks in Syosset, right down the street from me. Eisenhower's got a double sheet. So, I think the youth hockey program is growing, and as of that, you see over time, that more and more players are able to come out of there.’’