Bommer, at right, with his family, from left: William, Mackay, Reese, Lachlan, and Lizzie
When Rocky Shepard sent out the call to the Rye Rangers Hockey Club membership for nominations for the annual Good Skate Award, only one name came back — Eric Bommer. “This was the first year the choice was unanimous,” Shepard said at a surprise celebration for Bommer when he dropped his children off for practice at Playland Ice Casino October 21.
“There was one other suggestion, that the award should go to every coach, every manager, every player, every member in our program. Well, in my opinion, this was another vote for Eric, because if he had not led the way as president of our club, if he had not addressed the issues of running our program during the pandemic, if he had not managed Rye Country Day School’s strict protocols and the ever-changing Department of Health’s edicts, along with coaching, working, and being a good parent, we would not be the vibrant and thriving club that we are today. I would also argue that even though the pandemic raged along, we are in better shape today than we have ever been in our 40-year history! Hats off to Eric Bommer.”
For the uninitiated, Shepard provided a brief history of the origin of the Good Skate Award. “On December 15, 2001, the Rye Rangers staged a memorial game and fundraiser for the families of three members of the club — Tommy Palazzo, Teddy Maloney, and Ward Haynes — who perished in the tragedy at the World Trade Center. The day was a HUGE success.
“At the Rye Rangers Memorial Cup, we dedicated an award called the Good Skate. What struck each of us as we remembered our friends was how genuinely nice they were, how helpful they were to their friends, how loving they were with their families, and, generally, how much fun they were to be around. In rink jargon, each one was what you might call a ‘good skate’.
“A black granite trophy with an imbedded silver skate was created by one of our members, Gerry Baum, to remind us of this goodness and to inspire us to be better individuals.
“The inscription on the Good Skate states that it is to be presented annually to the member of the Rye Rangers Hockey Club voted by his/her peers as best epitomizing the human goodness of these special individuals. Its enduring legacy is to serve as a reminder that we are all better human beings for having shared our lives, both on and off the ice, with these guys.”
After a big round of applause for Bommer, Shepard turned the podium over to the “club orator”, Sam Weinman.
“When you give your time to a program like the Rye Rangers, the reasons are pretty simple,” Weinman began. “First, you love hockey. You love helping kids. You want to foster the incredible sense of community our program has enjoyed for decades. When Eric Bommer threw himself headfirst into his role as a Rye Rangers coach, and later as our club president, these were his reasons.
“At no point, it’s fair to say, did Eric want to become president so he could steer our program through the unprecedented challenges of a global health crisis. But the fact that it was Eric in that role is something for which every member of our extended hockey family should be incredibly grateful. Put it another way: prior to March 2020, it was already clear Eric embraced the ideals reflected in our program’s highest honor. But it was his remarkable efforts over these past 18 months that made him the clear choice for the 2021 Rye Rangers Good Skate Award.
“Forced to navigate the complex web of getting kids on the ice and playing hockey safely in the midst of a pandemic, Eric was tasked with providing answers at a time when no easy ones were available. Maybe hockey was only a small consideration amidst everything else last year. But in the face of so many disruptions to family’s lives, Eric was determined to not make the game we love another casualty.
“Alongside Steve Ketchabaw, Eric worked tirelessly to pull off a season, even at points when it seemed like a lost cause. When Playland closed, he secured hours of alternate ice around the region. When Rye Country Day School expressed reservations about opening up its ice rink beyond its school community, Eric worked to develop a safe, efficient plan for our program that addressed their concerns. When it was apparent we were all subject to the oversight of the Westchester County Department of Health, Eric opened up transparent lines of communication with the DOH to make sure the Rye Rangers were adhering to their guidelines.
“It’s not that Eric was the only person who made the hockey season a successful one. From Steve to the dozens of coaches, parents, and players who worked through so much uncertainty, this was a massive program-wide effort. But at some level, we were all taking our lead from Eric, who remained attentive to every pesky detail while never losing sight of the bigger picture.
“But to know Eric is to know he doesn’t do half-hearted; it doesn’t matter if the subject is epidemiology or defensive zone coverage. As many of us know, Eric was — and to some extent still is — a talented hockey player, emerging from upstate New York to play at Hotchkiss, Brown, and then overseas as a pro. Yet there is a big difference between winning the Scottish First Division Championship and teaching a 5-year-old how to stop. Those of us who have coached alongside Eric have learned from his rare ability to take his deep knowledge of the game and translate it clearly to even a beginning skater. Sometimes it’s more about what you don’t say than what you do.
“As a president meanwhile, Eric has presided over a period of staggering growth in our program that has expanded opportunities for players at every level. He was instrumental in building out our skill development relationship with Erik Nates; has streamlined our team selection process to make a stressful process thorough and transparent; and was at the forefront of our recent ascendance to Tier 2. Perhaps, most importantly, Eric has maintained the delicate balance of making the Rye Rangers a more competitive program than it’s ever been, all while maintaining the family atmosphere that is core to our identity.
“And speaking of family, Eric has foremost been devoted to his own, Lizzie, and his own PK unit of Mackay, Reese, Lachlan, and William—all of whom deserve a portion of this award for how much they’ve shared of Eric in recent years. While it’s true that Eric has operated as president thinking of every player in our program, his devotion to the Rye Rangers started with the simple question of what type of experience he’d want for his own hockey players at home and building from there. Eric also supposedly has a day job, as a longtime partner at Sentinel Partners, that leaves him scurrying home from trains and planes to get to practice, but we believe this to be primarily a means to maintain the smoothest ice surface in Rye, which happens to be in his backyard.
“As we read on the inscription of the Good Skate, the award is about the human goodness epitomized by the three wonderful men our program lost two decades ago. Essentially, it’s about recognizing the people who make our program better. In that sense, Eric Bommer was headed for this award the day he first walked into our rink.”
There was one other award handed out that night — The Rye Rangers Award, which recognizes a player who has played for the Rangers and exemplifies Good Citizenship, noted Shepard. “Of course, we want candidates to be conscientious students! The best way to describe the candidates is those who are doing things right. Two years ago, Evan Ketchabaw was the winner, and he possessed all these qualities and more and set an example for future winners.”
Shepard was excited to announce that the Committee, with input from the coaches, had selected Reece Dorfman as the winner for the 2020 season and Kevin Francella for the 2021 season. The awards include $1,000 scholarships.