Pro Hockey Comes to Putnam County
John Jordan | December 22, 2015
BREWSTER—Westchester has a minor league affiliate of the New York Knicks, Dutchess and Rockland counties have their respective minor league baseball teams the Hudson Valley Renegades and the Rockland Boulders and rounding out the lower Hudson Valley, Putnam County now has its own pro hockey team—the Brewster Bulldogs.
The official announcement of the team’s formation was back in September at the Brewster Ice Arena. Since then the team, which plays in the six-team Federal Hockey League, has staged some exhibition contests and in early November dropped the puck on its regular season on Friday, Nov. 6. Although the team did not record a victory against its rival the Danbury Titans (6-1 loss), the Bulldogs got revenge on the Titans on Sat. Nov. 14th with a 4-3 victory at the Brewster Ice Arena.
Bruce Bennett, 67, former owner of Bruce Bennett Nissan, is the owner of the Brewster Bulldogs minor league hockey team. Bennett says his passion for cars began when he first entered the car business in 1970s. However his love for the sport of hockey started about three years ago when his auto dealerships became the major sponsor of the former Danbury Whale. Bennett owned Nissan dealerships in Middletown and Wilton, CT and for a short time a store in Yorktown, NY. He sold two of his dealerships to a group and sold his Wilton, CT dealership to his son Todd.
Wanting to remain active in his retirement, Bennett said the opportunity to take over the Danbury franchise after the former owners walked away last year came first and then later came the chance to establish the Brewster Bulldogs at the behest of the Federal Hockey League.
“I went to my first hockey game with my wife and I fell in love, Bennett said. “It was like ‘Oh my God.’ My son was a football player in high school and college, my daughter was in soccer and we loved the Yankees, but I said, ‘This is the sport to see.’ From the drop of the puck until the end of the game it is truly non-stop (action).”
The Brewster Bulldogs consist of 18 players that Bennett admits do not get paid anywhere near the superstars of the National Hockey League. However, his team is at the salary cap ($4,100 a week for the team) established by the league and he also provides housing for the players.
Bennett said that one of the advantages the Brewster Bulldogs has over many of its FHL rivals is that it has an arena—the Brewster Ice Arena—that can accommodate more than 1,000 patrons. The Harrison, NY native, notes that he knows the Putnam County area well having raised his children in the Mahopac school system. The current resident of nearby Danbury, CT, relates that the league needed six teams to operate effectively. He said that a team in Watertown, NY suspended operations for a year while renovations are undertaken on its arena, which reduced the league to just five teams.
After securing a lease for his Danbury team at the Danbury Ice Arena, he learned of the opportunity to establish another team in Brewster. While some argued that the teams were located to close to draw a sufficient fan base, Bennett recalled, “I felt very different because the Brewster, Carmel, Pawling area is all hockey. That hockey rink, owned by the Santini family, I don’t care when you go there. You can go at eight o’clock in the morning or 12 at night and the place is packed.”
Bennett said that because he was taking on two teams, the Federal Hockey League lowered the normal fees paid to the league. In addition, he was able to negotiate a “realistic” lease for the Brewster arena.
While he said the team needs to attract more fans to attend its games, the initial response to the hockey team has been good. Among some of its more enthusiastic fans is the Putnam County Executive, he related. “MaryEllen Odell has been just been absolutely fantastic with me. She is a fan, she is a real sports fan and she is very excited (about the team).”
Currently, the Bulldogs home games attract approximately 150 to 200 fans. Bennett is hopeful that in the future, attendance can at least go over the 300 mark.
He said that the team is planning to start a booster club to drum up fan support and is also considering sometime in the future to incorporate Putnam County in its marketing efforts for a more regional feel as well as dispel the confusion over the fact that there is an existing junior hockey team called the Brewster Bulldogs that also play at the Brewster Ice Arena.
For tickets to attend Brewster Bulldogs games call (845) 302-0077 or go the team’s website.