Nick Catrone understands what his players are going through.
That is because Catrone, a recent graduate of Binghamton University and Port Washington resident, was in their skates just a few years ago.
“I played on this team when I was in high school,” he said. “So I think that helps me relate to the players. It’s been a humbling experience, and I think it makes me a better coach.”
Catrone recently finished his first season as the coach of the Port JV club hockey team, a season that saw his squad make the county championship.
Although he said his relationship with the players was important to the team’s success, he gave most of the credit to the guys on the ice.
“I’ve got to chalk it up to having a good team,” he said. “A coach can be the greatest coach ever, but if they don’t have a good team, then it is hard to be successful.”
The privately run team, which plays its games at the Port Washington Skating Center, compiled a 12-6 record during the regular season. The Vikings’ record was good enough for third best in Nassau County and the team qualified for postseason play. Catrone’s squad defeated second-seeded Bellmore-Merrick 4-1, despite being beaten three times by that team during the regular season.
The Vikings faced an undefeated Oceanside team in the county final, a squad that had won the state championship a few weeks earlier. Port’s defense held strong for most of the game, but in the end the Vikings were defeated 2-1.
“We gave them a close game, and I’m proud to say that we had a very successful season,” Catrone said.
The old sports maxim is that defense wins championships, and Catrone said the Vikings were able to succeed due to the fact his four best skaters— Joe Contino, Sam Geida, Finn Catti and Chris Byrne— were all defensemen.
There is no varsity team for Port Washington. Instead, Catrone made the decision based on the players available to him if the team would be varsity or junior varsity.
“We look at it on a year-to-year basis, based on how old the kids are, how skilled they are, etc,” he said.
This year there were a lot of juniors who came out for the team and only a few seniors, so Catrone decided on junior varsity. Seniors are ineligible to play on junior varsity teams.
Next year, Catrone said the Vikings will make the jump to varsity as the junior class moves up a grade.
In addition to coaching high school students, Catrone coaches a travel team for 11-year-olds that he also played on as a child.
“With the kids, you have to keep in mind that they are still learning and can’t be too hard on them,” he said. “Contrast that with the older team, where you can play who you need to play and there’s an emphasis on winning. But both are rewarding.”
Catrone grew up in Port Washington and worked at the Skating Center during high school and college.
“Instead of working as a waiter like a lot of kids, I worked at the rink,” he said. “I started coaching summer camps at 16 and I liked coaching. And because people knew I liked coaching, I got two offers to coach a kids travel team and the JV team.”
One of the toughest parts of coaching the team, he said, was finding funding to support the Vikings since they are not affiliated with the Port Washington school district.
“We didn’t have a lot of practices last year because we couldn’t afford ice time,” he said. “For next year, we need to find new ways to fundraise.”