By Miles Regan / USPHLNCDC.com
After an historic season full of firsts (with another big one still on the horizon), the USPHL and its Tuition-Free Tier II National Collegiate Development Conference, are proud to announce the P.A.L. Junior Islanders as the 2022-23 NCDC Organization of the Year.
“It’s a great honor,” said fourth-year head coach Mike Marcou. “It’s always nice to be recognized and that’s something that we all work for from the top down. We’re all about doing the right things every day to help our players and that’s what makes our team special.”
The organization was originally founded as the Police Athletic League and partnered with the Suffolk County Police Department all the way back in 1974. Islanders General Manager Ron Kinnear played on that first Peewee team and is a P.A.L. lifer. He’s been with the program since day one and has watched it grow from a small town youth club into the largest Juniors organization in New York state.
P.A.L. now fields over 550 players and Kinnear attributes the recent influx of local talent to the club’s partnership with the NHL’s New York Islanders. The two became affiliated in 2015, the same year the club joined the USPHL, and have been known as the P.A.L. Jr. Islanders ever since. The club also partnered with Black Bear Sports Group earlier this spring and is expecting another growth spurt in the coming years.
No matter how big P.A.L. gets however, they’re going to continue to do things the Long Island Way.
“We’re a little old-school,” says Kinnear. “We really stress and talk about family and commitment. We talk about loyalty and when we recruit a player we need to see the character needed to buy into our culture. That’s our M.O.”
Loyalty is the name of the game in East Meadow. Two Jr. Islanders were selected early in last year’s NAHL draft but chose to come back to P.A.L. because of the bonds they’d developed within the building. Another year of play under Coach Marcou – around whom the community rallied a season ago after a health scare – sounded pretty good, too.
“They’re about being good people,” said Marcou, who also suited up for the team as a youngster, before an NCAA Division I career at the University of Massachusetts and also in minor pro hockey. “P.A.L. truly cares about how they treat employees, really allowing me to do my job. Last year I was sick with cancer and they went above and beyond in terms of taking care of my family. (We) try to just be good people.”
The USPHL applauds the efforts of the P.A.L. community and how it has continued to support coach Marcou. That’s what hockey’s all about and the league could not be prouder of the Jr. Islanders.
Good people deserve good things, and that’s part of the reason why P.A.L.’s currently enjoying the best season of its USPHL tenure. The NCDC team finished the regular season with a franchise-high 73 points and took second place in the South division, missing first overall by one point.
Goaltender Cameron Smith (‘02/Westchester, N.Y.), a St. Lawrence University commit, recorded a league best 27 victories and winger Luca Leighton (‘03/Old Brookville, N.Y.) finished third in points with 63. The pair of battle-tested Jr. Islanders have served as team captains this season and are core pieces of the team architects Marcou and Kinnear have built. Their impact will be felt long after they move on to the NCAA ranks.
Before that happens though, Leighton and Smith have one more big piece of business to take care of: this weekend’s Dineen Cup Final.
P.A.L. earned its first championship series appearance by taking both its first round series against Rockets Hockey Club and second round against the Mercer Chiefs via 2-0 sweeps.
They’ll face the North Division Champion South Shore Kings for the crown this weekend. GM Kinnear is ecstatic about the current team’s chance at a ring, but also knows that their organization’s strong culture has them built for the future. No matter how this weekend goes, the Jr. Islanders will be back.
“We’re going to be successful next year and in years to come because we’ve built the foundation and once you’ve done that it’s lasting. You just continue to add layers. Coach Marcou has done a great job laying the bricks. It’s all starting to come together.”