Your mamas are not here to take care of you now. — Sgt. Hulka
Nick Orlando spent nine years in Hawaii, which is at least a handful more than he thought when he and his wife Sonia made the move from New York in 2011.
They’re back living in Hopewell Junction, N.Y., with a toddler, Charlotte, in tow.
“One year turned to two and then three and then five,” said Orlando, an accomplished hockey player, during an interview Tuesday. “It was an indefinite kind of contract.”
Connections with a friend living out here led to getting hired as a seventh grade math teacher at Waianae Intermediate. He loved the job, but the length of his family’s stay in Hawaii would not have lasted as long had it not been for the close proximity to one of the best (if not the best) inline hockey facility in the country — Kapolei Inline Hockey Arenas.
There, Orlando flourished after almost immediately fitting in with the top players on the island.
“I looked up the rink before I even moved out,” he said. “I knew I wasn’t going to go somewhere where I couldn’t play at least a little bit of hockey. It looked like a really nice place out there. My buddy, Kenny McCullough, was teaching at Waianae and he had played there a few times. He helped me get out there.”
Without a doubt, Orlando’s most gratifying Hawaii hockey moment came in 2016, when he and a team made up mostly of KIHA players broke through to win the NARCH winter nationals in San Jose, Calif.
“Definitely the most memorable moment with KIHA,” he said. “We played over at San Jose in the NARCH tournaments (in the Gold division) for three, four, five years in a row and we had gotten to the finals so many years without winning it. We would do so well and be the choker in the finals. And then once we got over the hump, we won it a few more times. But the first one was really memorable. We were waiting so long to have a nice, cold beverage with that big NARCH Cup. That felt like any college or youth hockey championship I won. It was a cool celebration.”
Among the other KIHA players on that team, Orlando recalls, were Jon Chun, Kimo Chun, Dane Masada, Todd Masada, Jon Carney, Kyle Matsuoka, Preston Suekawa and Allen Donathan.
“I remember (KIHA rink owner) Richard Pentecost showing me around when I first got to KIHA,” Orlando said. “And I remember hearing about (KIHA hockey director) Jami Yoder or crossing paths with him years earlier somehow before I got here. Everybody was super nice about everything and I absolutely loved it. That made the transition from 5,000 miles away that much easier.”
Orlando, now 33, played his youth ice and inline hockey in Hopewell Junction, which is near Poughkeepsie and is about a 2-hour, 15-minute drive south down the Taconic Parkway to New York City. He played four years of varsity hockey at John Jay High School, graduating in 2005, and then four more years at Siena College in Loudonville, N.Y., along with one post-grad year (five years of eligibility is the norm there) at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, where he also coached for a season during his second year of grad school.
Due to the long drive and because he never shipped his ice skates over, Orlando did not play at the Ice Palace.
“I was playing hockey at a great place and it was so good there (at KIHA),” he said. “and that drive (to the only ice rink in Halawa), living in Makaha, would have been very difficult. Games can be at 9:30 or 10 at night, finishing at 11:30, getting home at 12:30 or 1 and not showering and going to bed until about 2.
“And the D-I (top division at KIHA) guys are as good as anywhere in the country, maybe except for a few select places. And the league is better than any inline league I’ve played for. The best guys at KIHA would beat the best guys in New York, I would say nine times out of 10.”
In high school and college, Orlando played center. In inline hockey, he’s a shifty, goal-scoring forward.
“At John Jay, we won three league titles and played in the state tournament three of the four years,” he said. “In college, we won the league title in my junior and senior year and went to the national (American College Hockey Association Division II, which is not part of the NCAA) tournament in sophomore, junior and senior year. In senior year, we made the final four.”
Ask anybody at KIHA and they’ll pretty much tell you that Orlando is an offensive-minded player. That’s because it’s true — now. But he wasn’t always that way.
At Siena, part of his job as a member of the penalty killing unit.
“Believe it or not, I was a defensively responsible player, a two-way player,” he said.
His style changed when Jon and Kimo Chun approached him and told them they needed him to score goals.
“They had been going to the mainland tournaments and were in a lot of low-scoring games,” Orlando said. “They told me that they had trouble scoring on mainland goalies, so I said I can shoot the puck if that’s what you want me to do, and so I morphed into that kind of player. Plus, with those guys as good puck moving defensemen, it allowed me to do that job easier. I’ve always prided myself on reading plays and now (without as much defensive responsibility) I could leak out and lazily drift out and kind of coast behind the defensemen and I knew they could get it down to me.”
Leaking out, lazily drifting out, coasting behind the defensemen — that’s exactly what you’ll see on a Nick Orlando highlight reel. Getting open and then putting it away with a snipe or a few dekes or a pass to an open cutter.
Orlando will remember Jon Chun and Dane Masada as among the most complete, “super responsible in any zone” players at KIHA, and called Kimo Chun “probably one of the best defenders.”
Suekawa, Orlando said, was one of the fastest guys with “a whole bunch of talent” that he’s seen.
“And Preston has a head for the game who knows the ins and outs really well,” he added. “That’s something you can’t really teach.”
Orlando has been playing in a four-team outdoor league in Hopewell Junction on Mondays and Wednesdays.
“When the temperature gets in the 40s and 50s, it’s tough on the lungs and I have trouble adjusting to the cold air,” he said. “It’s like 20 seconds at a time”
Anybody who jokes about Orlando’s offensive bent will get a kick out of this:
“It was my first game back and a guy I played with for a year and then coached a year a Marist says, ‘I’m going to put you back on defense.’ I was like, ‘What are you crazy?’ But before I left (for Hawaii), he remembers me as a defensively sound player.”
Probably true. Eh, but for Hawaii guys reading this, there is at least a little doubt.
“I will miss the friendships I made there at KIHA,” Orlando said. “And there’s not a lot of rinks on the mainland that are as beautiful. I’ll miss the beach. But being back in New York with my side of the family on one side of town and my wife’s side of family on the other, our daughter will grow up with her grandparents in her life. That means so much to me and Sonia.”
And there are plenty of mainland tournaments that Orlando can play in with the KIHA boys.
“California, Florida, Michigan, wherever they end up playing, give me a call,” he added. “I’ve got frequent flier miles built up through the years. I won’t miss a beat. I promise to stay in shape a little bit. I was thinking of calling the guys to see if they’re playing in the December tournament at Jami’s brother’s (CJ Yoder, who is legendary in inline hockey circles) new rink in Colorado. Plus, I’ll definitely be coming back to visit and sneaking my hockey equipment on the airplane.
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