On April 8, 1996, Peter and Chris Ferraro's 23-year-old dream became a reality. When the Rangers hosted the Florida Panthers, the identical twins took the ice together at Madison Square Garden. Although Peter had been called up for two NHL stints earlier that season, this game was Chris' Blueshirts debut.
The duo had won an NCAA championship at Maine and played on the 1994 U.S. Olympic team, but it was when both hit NHL ice side by side that they realized the magnitude of their achievements.
"That's when it became clear all the time, dedication, sacrifices, relocations, being sent away from our families to get to highest level was worth it," Chris says. "Putting our skates on the Madison Square Garden ice. That's when it really sank in."
The Port Jefferson, N.Y., natives played on a line together and made the most of it. Chris scored a goal on an assist from Peter.
"It was one of the greatest moments of our lives and our family and community was able to witness it. It was a phenomenal feeling," Chris says.
The twins played a combined 166 games in the NHL. Many of those games came as teammates for the Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals. Now 40, the Ferraros are done with their pro playing career, but they're not ready to leave hockey. They have a project to improve youth hockey development.
On Jan. 15, ground was broken for the Ferraro Brothers Ice Center at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow, N.Y. The Long Island venue will feature twin ice rinks and a sports and recreation center.
The $15 million project is privately financed, and the brothers are partnering with attorneys Ronald and Joel Friedman and insurance advisor Rich "Big Daddy" Salgado of Coastal Advisors LLC, who is the consultant/accountant.
"Upon our retirement, Chris and I loved the art of teaching kids and getting involved in youth hockey development," Peter says. "We wanted to expand the sports recreation community. We were fortunate enough to partner up with the right people."
Both Ferraros last played professionally for the Las Vegas Wranglers of the ECHL in 2008-09. The twins came back to Long Island, hoping to get involved with youth hockey, but hit unexpected barriers.
"We were very much on the outside trying to get on the inside of multiple facilities and multiple organizations," Chris says. "We were pretty much shut out. We walked a very fine line in a neutral stance to be very clear we did not want to run on organization or interfere with coaches and facilities. All we knew is we had a passion and wanted to help grow the sport of hockey."
As children, they had to look elsewhere for serious hockey teaching.
"We had no youth hockey development here on Long Island," Chris says. "That's part of the driving force and the commitment and our mission."
The twins played some of their youth career for the Philadelphia Little Flyers, a junior program in Aston, Pennsylvania. They also played for a tri-state area All-Star team coached by their father, Peter, a former minor league baseball player. They spent many summers at hockey schools in Minnesota, Michigan, Massachusetts and Canada.
"Unfortunately, to get to the higher levels, we needed to leave this region," Chris says. "There are no scouts that enter the Long Island area because the exposure is not here, unfortunately."
The Ferraros are hoping their rink can change the perception of Long Island youth hockey. Both insist the talent is present in the area, but the resources are in need of help. They predict their facility will bring a vibrant setting of knowledgeable coaches and high quality equipment.
"First and foremost, we just want to create an environment where these players can develop and excel and not have to go to Connecticut or New Jersey or Boston," Peter says. " I'm not saying it's wrong to do that. It's great to go out and expand and see what else is out there. It's healthy to do that. But I don't think every weekend a kid should be ripped away from their families, so that they have to go and get exposure and get the best competition."
Two youth programs, the Long Island Gulls Amateur Hockey Association and the New York Junior Bobcats, are already slotted to call the rinks home. Peter and Chris both have previous influence with the organizations and plan to be involved in their players' development.
While some of Long Island's most elite players will come through the Ferraro Brothers Ice Center, the twins do not want the facility only geared toward the most serious players.
"It's going to be multi-purpose," Peter says. "You're going to have your recreational players and you're going to have your elite players. We're not going to hammer down the fact you have to play in the National Hockey League. If you want to, we'll be there to support you and guide you in that direction. If not, enjoy the game. Have fun with it."
The facility will include a variety of off-ice elements to complement the rinks. Weight training equipment, shooting stations, stick-handling stations, goalie stations and an indoor sprinting area will be present in the facility.
The Ferraros stress the importance of off-ice training. In Long Island, it was how they put most of their work in.
"During the summers when we were home, we would work 12 to 14 hour days on the ice, off the ice," Chris says. "Activity after activity to excel and be athletic and get to the higher levels."
Salgado, who insures some of sports' biggest names (Justin Tuck, Michael Strahan, Ryan Braun, Vernon Davis), was impressed by the Ferraro brothers' commitment.
"It was months of planning, paperwork and financing," the fellow Long Island native said. "They were very dedicated to it."
The Ferraro twins lived through the Islanders' four-peat from 1980-1983. As children, the Ferraros watched first-hand as the dynasty thrived. Three decades later, Nassau County's only professional team is on its way out. The Islanders plan to move to Brooklyn in 2015.
Although the pro team may be leaving, the Ferraros do not think it will hurt Long Island youth hockey development.
"It really has no effect on players wanting to play hockey or not," Peter says. "The athletes on Long Island are great. There's great soccer players, great lacrosse players, great hockey players. The Islanders making the move to Brooklyn, I don't think that has an effect on youth hockey."
Although the Peter and Chris dedicated their lives to hockey, they were surrounded by other sports during their youth. Plaza Surf N' Sports, a sporting goods store established by the Ferraros in 1972, has been a family business ever since. There are locations in Rocky Point, N.Y. and Montauk, N.Y., but another store may be on the way.
According to the twins, the family business will have a "presence" in the Ferraro Brothers Ice Center.
The Ferraros also have a strong off-ice presence in philanthropy. In 2001, Chris' wife, Jennifer, passed away from stomach cancer. Chris set up the Jennifer Ferraro Foundation to fund stomach cancer research as a tribute to his wife. The foundation gave $60,000 to the Garden of Dreams Foundation in February 2011. Peter and Chris have also been active with Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital in New York.
"Jennifer always wanted to give back," Peter says. "She's always in our hearts and minds."
Peter and Chris recently created a new charity, called the Ferraro Brothers Hockey Foundation. The foundation will be geared toward underprivileged children who cannot afford to play hockey for whatever reason, be it financially or physically.
"The goal is to introduce the sport of hockey to kids who may not have the means or may be disabled or so on that they can't enjoy the luxury or honor of playing the game," Peter says.
The foundation's seeds are being planted, and the Ferraro twins will not make any drastic moves before judging their resources. Opening a new twin rinks facility of their own is a start.
Salgado sees the project as more than just a training bubble for youth hockey. He sees a Long Island community, not just a hockey community, which will get a boost from the new attraction.
"The big thing was privately financed, so the taxpayers get a break and we're bringing jobs to the area," he says. "We're also bringing quality hockey coaching to young kids. My role is to increase the exposure, have my professional and celebrity clients come through and just let the whole world know the twin rinks are in Long Island, New York."
Three decades ago, Peter and Chris were youth players trying to make it from Long Island to the big time. Now, they want to help all types of youth hockey players in whatever way necessary.
"Everything that we learned as young men was through being very active in hockey," Chris says. "Those experiences shaped us and molded us to the people we are."
With the NHL franchise on its way out and youth hockey development in limbo, Long Island could use a new leader in the hockey community. It is about to get two of its most successful sons.
-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.
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