Closing in on the Atlantic Division, With Work To Do on the Metropolitan Division

Something about seeing the New York City skyline unexpectedly was comforting last week.

As my plane descended from the clouds toward LaGuardia, the first thing I see at dawn is the Chrysler Building at a distance behind trees upon trees. Everyone fixates on the Empire State Building, but the art deco tower is what tells me that I’m in New York.

We flew past the skyline, seeing taillights pile up on the Queensboro Bridge as we skirt past neighborhoods on the way to touchdown. New York is romanticized ad nauseam and I’ve never been one to gush over the city or felt the urge to take those random trips to the Big Apple.

I wanted to get off the plane and take a different vacation instead on my way to Montreal after landing in New York. “Oh, I should be here. It looks pretty nice in the morning. Am I here for some sort of 30 Rock episode? Is that Kimmy Schmidt’s neighborhood?”

So, I’m kind of itching to get some of the New York area arenas out of the way next despite my brain telling me I should get Toronto and Buffalo done first.

I had an incredible time in Montreal – a beautiful city with an unexpected heatwave that gave me a feeling of being in Europe. The food, the beer, the art, the people and the nice officer who honked at me for jaywalking in front of his car all made Montreal magnifique. The experience is why I’m excited to continue my journey to other cities when I can.

What I have left in the Eastern Conference is mainly the Metropolitan Division, with NYR, NYI, NJD and PHI on the manifest. Buffalo and Toronto are my lone Atlantic Division cities left, unless you count Detroit. More on that in a minute.

My NHL arena tour hasn’t made any stops in the New York metro area and now I have the urge to just drive up there in the next year and see a game — not necessarily at Madison Square Garden. I want to torture myself by experiencing not-made-for-hockey Barclays Center in Brooklyn before the Islanders head out to another arena. Or even the Prudential Center in Newark, where fans rave about the sightlines in the arena but run as fast as they can to get out of Newark.

My last visit to New York in 2011 for orientation with one of my former employers didn’t leave much time for me to get out to the city and do the things I had on my list for awhile: pay respects at the 9/11 Memorial, visit One World Trade Center, get to the NHL Store NYC and maybe see a show on Broadway because isn’t everyone supposed to?

That’s the great part about this journey I’m taking. Every city has something to offer and a reason to come back. I’ve been to New York City, what two or three times? And I still have to go back for three hockey games.

I’m going to have to go back to Detroit — when I saw them in 2009 they were in Joe Louis Arena and in the Western Conference. So it’s the one city I’m going to have to visit twice due to conference swaps. (Fortunately, Columbus was accomplished two seasons ago when they came east.) By the looks of Little Caesars Arena, the return to Detroit will absolutely be worth it.

The Western Conference is another challenge all in itself. I managed to cross off one way back in 2005 seeing the Chicago Blackhawks take on the Minnesota Wild coming out of the lockout. (Damn you Detroit for moving conferences!) I have Gila River Arena in Glendale, Arizona, and T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on the docket for December. After that, I’m not sure of my plan  of attack for the west.

Here’s what I’m looking forward to in each remaining Eastern Conference city, outside of the game and arena itself:

Buffalo: Buffalo is the top U.S. market for Labatt beer and the company is opening The John Labatt House downtown to be a restaurant and pilot brewery. I’m not a wings guy, but I’m sure a stop to the Anchor Bar is in order. Player to watch: Jack Eichel

Toronto: On the journey between Buffalo and Toronto is the all-new Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery & Distillery in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The building and rink look beautiful. This has to be a winter stop for me. Once I get to The Six, I can head back to Gretzky’s restaurant and the Hockey Hall of Fame for the first time since 2001—my only visit to the city. Player to watch: Auston Matthews

Manhattan (New York Rangers): Allllll the pizza! I’ll just walk in any direction and find something that’ll strike my fancy because that’s New York. Player to watch: Tony DeAngelo

Brooklyn (New York Islanders): Bagels? Hipsters? A bridge? Brooklyn is just too cool for itself. Maybe I’ll go over to the more pretentious Williamsburg and have a coffee at a shop shown in Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.  Player to watch: Josh Ho-Sang

Newark: It might actually be easier to get to a ferry to see the Statue of Liberty from here. Not sure. Also, maybe Newark is not a place to romanticize. There are bridges to New York, after all. Player to watch: Nico Hischier

Philadelphia: Somehow, I haven’t been able to make it out to Geno’s or Pat’s for a cheesesteak in my visits to Philly. That’s a ludacris sin I committed considering how much I love cheesesteaks. Afterward, I’ll wash all that shame way at Paddy’s Pub. Also, I bought a heavily discounted Flyers jersey for this occasion to avoid being pelted by batteries. Player to watch: Nolan Patrick

Detroit: OK, this is the one trip where I’m really looking forward to the arena experience itself. My jaw dropped watching the video tours of Little Caesars Arena. The LED lighting on the freaking ceiling feels more Vegas than Detroit, but also almost like you walked into a church with all that mosaic lighting. The innovative concourse design with a glass roof is something to behold. If I can afford it, I really want to be in the lounge on the visitor’s side to watch the team walk by during the intermission and warm-ups. It’s been eight years since seeing experiencing Joe Louis Arena and Detroit. How soon can I go back to the Motor City? Player to watch: Mike Green

 

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Summer Hockey In September: A Montreal Affair

IMG_3665Usually when hockey teams say they want to play in the summer, they mean June and the Stanley Cup Final.

It’s OK to overlook September, where pre-season games are played out in equally as muggy temperatures. My trip to the Bell Centre, with my sister Wendy as my guest, felt more like a Florida game. It was in the mid-80s, it was humid and I questioned whether I should wear a jersey to the game in these conditions.

It didn’t matter because what actually made me uncomfortable were the seats inside. I’m not a massive guy but I’ve put on a few pounds over the last two years. Basically, I was sitting in an airplane seat watching a hockey game, unable to pop out of my seat without making an ass out of myself to celebrate a goal. So, I sat and politely applauded the Caps as they marched to a pre-season victory.

You’re going to have to fit in 20,000 seats somehow, and that means having seats for the trimmer Canadian crowd. Everyone is so healthy up north! Not all seats are like that.

As we looked to our right from Section 107 Row F, we noticed that two end seats on the next section were double the size! One even looked like a love seat compared to regular arena seats. It’s a good tip to keep in mind when I return for another game one day.

Looking up in the nosebleeds, the configuration reminded me of the old HersheyPark Arena, where metal bars would be placed in front of each row to avoid hockey fans from tumbling to their death. HersheyPark Arena, still in use for youth hockey, has about 7,000 seats. So, seeing the barriers in a 20,000-seat arena was something to behold.

And you know what? Nearly every one of those 20,000 seats were filled for a weekday pre-season hockey game. (Of note: The official capacity is 21,288. The announced attendance, which includes tickets sold and given away despite not showing up, was 21,288.)

IMG_3719.JPGYou’d expect that dedication in Montreal but it’s another thing to see it. And hear it. The crowd was dedicated to every hit, every missed check, every bounce and of course, every goal. Shit, they even went wild on the 50/50, bringing the total up to like $16,000. It was a hockey symphony that is just a tease of what it could feel like in the regular season and playoffs.

I love quirks in arenas, especially newer ones, that make places stand apart in what’s been deemed the cookie cutter arena age. (Each arena I visit makes me realize how basic Verizon Center Capital One Arena is.) Bell Centre has a few.

The lower concourse is split into two levels with concessions both on the top and lower floors, making it easier to get around. You have Hall of Fame Canadiens Ring of Honor where plaques of 44 integral Habs players are enshrined, really drilling in the history. The history is apparent outside as well with statues on a plaza. Back indoors, on a lower level of the concourse, there is Youpiville! where even a grown ass man like myself had to tour and act like a kid for a ginger Yeti…or whatever Youpi is.

The washrooms deserve an entry here for the long walk down a corridor where you’re not sure if you’re going into the Canadiens dressing room before you see urinals and stalls. It’s a smart design, getting people out of the way and off the concourse, queued up in line. It also gives you time to contemplate why you spent $12 on a can of Molson beer, but more so, why is a can of Molson beer $12 in the city where Molson is headquartered?

The atmosphere was worth it despite the overpriced beer. (And strangely, the overpriced Reebok jerseys that were still only marked down half-off. I picked up a 2016 Winter Classic sweater anyway.)

In so many ways, it was a more enjoyable experience than in Ottawa where my back gave out, I had to sludge through a blizzard to drive back to my hotel, the game was relatively sleepy and front-row seats were more inconvenient than they’re worth.

IMG_3700So, cheers, Montreal! You’ve lived up to your reputation and are a shining hallmark of what hockey games are made of. Even when the visiting team wins 😉

Next arenas on my list: Gila River Arena in Glendale, Ariz., and T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.


Updated List of NHL Arenas I’ve Seen a NHL Game In

Centre Bell — Sept. 20, 2017 (Canadiens 2, Capitals 4. Devante Smith-Pelley scored one of the slowest goals I’ve ever seen. In this pre-season tilt, Smith-Pelley crashed the net as a shot hit goalie Charlie Lindgren, fluttering end over end above the goal until it came down and slid in. That was the game-winning goal. Evgeny Kuznetsov scored a goal and two assists, earning the first star of the game. Tom Wilson scored in an open net and Jakub Vrana opened the scoring. Nicklas Backstrom was among the scratched. Jonathan Drouin made his debut for the Canadiens, registering an assist.

Canadian Tire Centre – March 14, 2017 (Senators 1, Lightning 2 OT. Victor Hedman scores in OT to snap Senators six-game win streak. Kyle Turris and Bobby Ryan returned from injury for Sens. Lightning played without injured centers Tyler Johnson, Cedric Paquette and Vlad Namestnikov. Also, Ryan Callahan out for the season. Steven Stamkos nears return but misses game from long-term knee injury. Game played during a blizzard.)

Consol Energy Center – Feb. 20, 2016 (Penguins 2, Lightning 4. Steven Stamkos scores 300th career goal. From ESPN: “At 26 years, 13 days old, Stamkos is the ninth-youngest player to score 300 goals, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. He’s the second-youngest active player to get there after Ovechkin, who was 25 years, 200 days old when he scored No. 300 on April 5, 2011. Stamkos also is the first player from the 2008 NHL Draft to reach the mark; he has 162 more goals than Edmonton Oilers forward Jordan Eberle, the next-closest player from his draft class.

Lightning’s first regular season win in Consol Energy Center.)

Nationwide Arena –  Jan. 2, 2016 (Blue Jackets 5, Capitals 4 SO. Blue Jackets goalie Anton Forsberg replaced an injured Curtis McElhinney in OT. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Forsberg is the first NHL goalie to earn his first win in a game while making his debut in overtime.)

BankAtlantic Center/BB&T Center – 2012-13 (multiple/ first game: Panthers 1, Capitals 2 on Feb. 17, 2012. First time Tomas Vokoun played against Panthers in Sunrise with the Caps. Gordie Howe in attendance. Music cut out during anthem.)

Tampa Bay Times Forum/Amalie Arena– 2012-2014 (multiple/ first game: Lightning 4, Capitals 3 OT on Jan. 31, 2012 (Stamkos scores in OT. Ovechkin missed game for suspension. Backstrom was also out for a concussion.)

RBC Center – Oct. 12, 2011 (Hurricanes 3, Bruins 2/Tomas Kaberle notches an assist for his first point with the Hurricanes after winning a Cup with the Bruins the season before.)

Mellon Arena – March 28, 2010 (Penguins 5, Maple Leafs 4 SO/Phil Kessel’s 30th goal for the Leafs was the first 30-goal season for a Toronto player since Mats Sundin in 2007-08)

TD Garden -Dec. 30, 2010 (Bruins 4, Thrashers 0/Tuuka Rask’s third-career shutout)

Joe Louis Arena – March 17, 2009 (Red Wings 3, Flyers 2/Red Wings score three consecutive goals/Kris Draper’s 1000th game)

United Center – Oct. 23, 2005 (Blackhawks 4, Wild 2/Duncan Keith’s and Rene Bourque’s first career NHL goal/Brian Rolston’s 250th game)

MCI Center/Verizon Center – Pretty much every year since 1998 (multiple/ first game: Capitals 2, Rangers 3 on Jan. 3, 1998/ Dan Cloutier’s NHL debut with the New York Rangers)

US Airways Arena/Capital Centre -Nov.9, 1996 (Capitals 3, Rangers 2)

Blizzard hockey in Ottawa

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Canadian Tire Centre on March 14, 2017, right before a blizzard would batter the arena and region.

Last week, I marked off my first visit to a Canadian NHL arena, and why not do it during Canada’s 150th anniversary, during the week of the Stanley Cup’s 125th birthday, in the country’s capital?

I was a bit brave decided to go to a Ottawa Senators vs Tampa Bay Lightning game alone as a Bolts fan … on the glass. I figured it would be harmless because there would probably 10 people wearing Bolts jerseys in the Canadian Tire Centre (or the CTC as the locals call it).

I was right there’d be no harm, but I didn’t expect people to not engage with me. In any fashion. More on that in a few minutes.

The CTC is nearing the end of its life with the organization eyeing construction of a downtown arena in the LeBreton Flats neighborhood, hoping it to open in 2021. So, it was good for once to see an arena on its way out before it’s gone. I’ve been able to do so with Joe Louis Arena eight years ago, Mellon Arena around the same time frame but haven’t been so lucky with Nassau Coliseum, Rexall Place, Meadowlands and if you’re being picky include Philips Arena  (RIP Atlanta Thrashers).

Cosmetically, it looks fine. Large seating bowl, good sight lines, interesting choices for restaurants and smart construction of said restaurants considering the layout of the narrow concourse. The five-year-old HD scoreboard looked great when it worked (it crashed during the game intro) but that’s where the compliments stop.

Let’s start with getting to the arena. I’ve heard and read that the parking lot can be a nightmare to get into and out of with the game-day traffic, so get there early. I decided on a fantastic option instead, of going to Don Cherry’s Sports Grill in Kanata. You buy a meal, you get a ticket for a free shuttle to and from the game. That eliminates the headache of parking, paying for parking and battling traffic. The food and atmosphere is fantastic and feels authentically “Grapes.” Note that because of Grapes’ history with Budweiser, he only offers those beers on draft but you can get just about anything in a bottle.

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Inside Don Cherry’s Sports Grill in Kanata, Ontario.

I should note that on this day of the game, March 14, a nor’easter was blowing in dumping a foot of snow on the region. Just another reason to take the shuttle. Despite missing the warm-ups for the game, the shuttle’s advantages of avoiding traffic and the parking lots outweigh your desire to settle in to the arena early.

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A view from my seat in Section 102 Row A

(It still took me over an hour to get back to my hotel in Gatineau after the game. That’s after the bus dropped us off at the bar. Walls of snow blowed across the slushy, snowy highway. It’s normally a 20-minute drive but you had no option than to take it slow if you wanted to live.)

Walking toward the arena, a covered walkway partially exposed to the elements provided protection from the wind, but with all the snow blowing in, it felt like walking across a beach trying to see a hockey game. The final 10 meters when the walkway ended was a gauntlet as the wind pushed against you, really testing your strength to see a game. However, kudos to those people I saw make a 2 kilometer walk from the Fairfield Inn to the arena in that brutal storm to watch the Senators.

Getting through security and the line for the ticket to be scanned was a breeze. However, it looked like that once you enter your concourse, you can’t leave and go elsewhere in the arena to explore. I should have asked during intermission but didn’t want to risk it. Unlike other arenas, there aren’t connections past the gate to the upper concourses from the lower concourse.

Instead, the escalators are in the lobby area. The design makes the lower concourse feel claustrophobic before the game when a lot of people pack into a tight area–you don’t have much room wall-to-wall. Want to walk the whole way around? Not unless you’re a member of Club Bell. The arena has a 100-level club section that prevents access. I’ve been in other arenas like Consol Energy Center and BB&T Center (which is only two years younger and also seen renovations) that’s designed its 100-level club sections in a way where you can still walk a full circle around the arena but has the club section pushed back where the seats are. I imagine wider concourses and a better club area solution will be in the offering for the new arena.

When I made it to my seat, I settled in for the game. Right on the glass where the Bolts shoot twice. Say, a fellow wearing a white Lightning jersey should get some ribbing, right?

Nope. While nobody poured beer down my back, nobody gave me a hard time, or even joked. Actually, nobody spoke to me at all. It was very, very weird not to be engaged. Even attending as  Bolts fan at a Pittsburgh game people talked to me and asked questions. I just got weird stares.

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Sitting in the first row in the corner means the ref gets in the way.

To my left, a teenager was there with his dad. Clearly the kid was embarrassed by his dad, who was on his cell phone for a good portion of the game. Then come the third period, did the unspeakable. He was one of those guys who while talking on his phone, waved his hand frantically  as play came to our end, just for his friend to see him–or his arm–on TV. This went on for half the period until his son finally told him to stop. I’m sure the guys behind him were pissed. It was distracting for me and he was to my left. See, there are people in Canada who can’t act like they’ve been there before.

Despite the silence toward me, it was neat eavesdropping on people speaking both French and English in this bi-lingual capital as well as the in-game announcements being made in both languages. Yet the presentation lacked in engagement. No chants to get the crowd going or anything. The fans finally took to themselves to get a small chant going in the third but it was too little too late.

The game itself was a sleeper for the most part with Mike Condon making some terrific and lucky saves for the Sens. It wasn’t until halfway through the third when the pace and hitting really picked up in the 1-1 game, then heading into overtime when Victor Hedman sealed the win for the Bolts.

If I would go again, I would definitely sit in a higher row. Do not buy seats on the glass at the CTC, at least in the corners. I decided to grab one because they are a tremendous deal compared to other arenas on the resale market. A front-row seat was only $30 more than what I’d pay in the upper bowl at Verizon Center. But the inconvenience got to be a little much. The first row sets back about a foot from the glass, so in between each whistle people walk in front of you to go in between sections. That got old when this family who was split up across two sections kept swapping seats and any other person wanting to cut across to this cut-out section in 101 for drinks. Plus, the distance from the glass didn’t make being in the front row as special. The best arenas have your knees pressed against the boards and your face can kiss the glass at your own risk.

Would I return to the CTC? Yes, but I’d sit in a different section and row plus choose a game with an opponent people would get riled up over. I would still take in a pre-game meal and take the Don Cherry shuttle. Plus, I’d convince friends to come with me to make it a social affair.

IMG_2371Whether it’s the CTC or the new arena, I definitely need to get back to Ottawa for a game. The city is beautiful and I couldn’t fit everything in during my stay. Part of that I blame on my back that gave out right before vacation. That didn’t make it fun or easy to walk around the city or during the tour of Parliament. It also prevented me from finding an outdoor rink to skate around. The weather from the previous weeks also thawed out the Rideau Canal and a nearby skating trail, melting my vacation plans.

Basically, I have to schedule for the dead of winter at the end of January/beginning of February to try to avoid a freak thaw like this year’s. See you next year, Ottawa?


NHL Arenas I’ve Seen a NHL Game In

Canadian Tire Centre – March 14, 2017 (Senators 1, Lightning 2 OT. Victor Hedman scores in OT to snap Senators six-game win streak. Kyle Turris and Bobby Ryan returned from injury for Sens. Lightning played without injured centers Tyler Johnson, Cedric Paquette and Vlad Namestnikov. Also, Ryan Callahan out for the season. Steven Stamkos nears return but misses game from long-term knee injury. Game played during a blizzard.)

Consol Energy Center – Feb. 20, 2016 (Penguins 2, Lightning 4. Steven Stamkos scores 300th career goal. From ESPN: “At 26 years, 13 days old, Stamkos is the ninth-youngest player to score 300 goals, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. He’s the second-youngest active player to get there after Ovechkin, who was 25 years, 200 days old when he scored No. 300 on April 5, 2011. Stamkos also is the first player from the 2008 NHL Draft to reach the mark; he has 162 more goals than Edmonton Oilers forward Jordan Eberle, the next-closest player from his draft class.

Lightning’s first regular season win in Consol Energy Center.)

Nationwide Arena –  Jan. 2, 2016 (Blue Jackets 5, Capitals 4 SO. Blue Jackets goalie Anton Forsberg replaced an injured Curtis McElhinney in OT. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Forsberg is the first NHL goalie to earn his first win in a game while making his debut in overtime.)

BankAtlantic Center/BB&T Center – 2012-13 (multiple/ first game: Panthers 1, Capitals 2 on Feb. 17, 2012. First time Tomas Vokoun played against Panthers in Sunrise with the Caps. Gordie Howe in attendance. Music cut out during anthem.)

Tampa Bay Times Forum/Amalie Arena– 2012-2014 (multiple/ first game: Lightning 4, Capitals 3 OT on Jan. 31, 2012 (Stamkos scores in OT. Ovechkin missed game for suspension. Backstrom was also out for a concussion.)

RBC Center – Oct. 12, 2011 (Hurricanes 3, Bruins 2/Tomas Kaberle notches an assist for his first point with the Hurricanes after winning a Cup with the Bruins the season before.)

Mellon Arena – March 28, 2010 (Penguins 5, Maple Leafs 4 SO/Phil Kessel’s 30th goal for the Leafs was the first 30-goal season for a Toronto player since Mats Sundin in 2007-08)

TD Garden -Dec. 30, 2010 (Bruins 4, Thrashers 0/Tuuka Rask’s third-career shutout)

Joe Louis Arena – March 17, 2009 (Red Wings 3, Flyers 2/Red Wings score three consecutive goals/Kris Draper’s 1000th game)

United Center – Oct. 23, 2005 (Blackhawks 4, Wild 2/Duncan Keith’s and Rene Bourque’s first career NHL goal/Brian Rolston’s 250th game)

MCI Center/Verizon Center – Pretty much every year since 1998 (multiple/ first game: Capitals 2, Rangers 3 on Jan. 3, 1998/ Dan Cloutier’s NHL debut with the New York Rangers)

US Airways Arena/Capital Centre -Nov.9, 1996 (Capitals 3, Rangers 2)

 

A Return Visit to The Ice Mine

Sunday began with the intentions to play some pond hockey  but with the wind chill at -10 F, I realized that there is such a thing as too cold for hockey.

As a last minute decision, I decided to take a buddy up to The Ice Mine for some stick time. I haven’t been there in months and haven’t been there since new ownership came in.

The rink that reminded me of where “Slap Shot” could have been staged, is getting some much needed attention.

Some very basic and others grandiose. I’ve only been on the ice rink side of the building, so I don’t know what the roller rink and other space have going on.

(And it turns out it can also be too cold to think. I forgot to take photos.)

Other than a fresh coat of deep purple paint that makes the curb appeal more attractive, you can’t miss the big project once you see the ice rink and stands.

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Look behind the players in the photo above and you see a section of the stands being enclosed. When I arrived, there was blue siding in front of the wood, and the main area had windows installed. The main enclosure was pretty much finished.

I don’t know what the full plan is,but I like it. Just enclosing a space with more comfortable seating could make this place more enjoyable watching your kids practice. On a day like today, where it was still bitter ass cold inside the rink, a hockey dad told me that it didn’t feel like hot air was coming off the heaters above the bleachers because it was so cold.

Other than that, improvements are small for now. Just simple things like putting in a functional faucet in the restroom is a huge upgrade. I was happy to see that plus soap and paper towels in there. Before, it just had a motion detection faucet that dribbled water.

There’s still a ton to do to make it comfortable. (Doors instead of plastic shower curtains in the bathroom stalls, new shower flooring, rubber flooring in the locker rooms, working water fountain near locker room.) It isn’t cheap just keeping up with maintenance for a regular rink, and it’s certainly not going to be cheap bringing the rink up to expectations, but it’s great to see progress being made.

Once it gets there, a hockey dad and I said as these changes occur, it’s important to instill respect for the facility into the kids skating and playing hockey. Once you make it nice, make sure the kids keep it nice and don’t destroy the place.

Now that my schedule has freed up a bit more, I hope to be back soon.

Next Steps for FSU Outdoor Rink

EDIT:

Since this post was first published, we received assistance on how to guide university bureaucracy.

The FSU Ice Rink Club is up and running, but it has to complete the boring stuff before fundraising can start.

The members are working toward creating a formal proposal and operations manual to do a seasonal rink before fundraising can start.

This is likely a two-year project. Hope to have updates soon!

We’re making progress on getting a small rink on Frostburg State’s campus, and this week will be about getting more students involved.

FSU Rink AerialWe’re going to go for a 50×100 rink and we are proposing it be located on the Stadium Gravel Lot. This lot is outside of our PE Center, beside the baseball field and across from the student center. This parking lot became a makeshift lot after construction staging, so Athletics folks will be happy to have that space blocked off and made useful.

Students are coming back into town this weekend, so this week will be about getting them together and form a student organization that can receive funding from the Student Government Association and get an account set up for donations.

How can you help?

While we are seeking internal funding, we know we need to raise money for both the rink and rental skates.

If you are interested in donating cash, we are in the process of setting up an account with the FSU Foundation  to do so. The money will go toward rink materials, acquiring rental skates and seating.

If you are wanting to donate ice skates or any other materials or supplies, please reach out to me through the comments here. Your donation can be made in-kind through the FSU Foundation, and I can assist in completing the necessary paperwork.

From here on out, I’ll post major updates about the rink here but the daily planning can be found here in the Frostburg Ice Rink group on Facebook.

Bringing an Ice Rink to Frostburg…Hopefully

You have to start somewhere, and I figured I might as well get the momentum going.

Now that I’m settled in at Frostburg State University as an employee, I feel comfortable being involved with projects that makes the campus buzz. It helps strengthen my connection to the campus and community and gives me something else to think about at work.

I’m seeking a grant at FSU to bring a seasonal outdoor ice rink to the campus. There are a lot of moving parts, but I won’t stop until it comes.

If I don’t get a grant that could be awarded this fall, then I have to wait until next June to hear the results of another grant.

What you’re here for at this blog is to be involved the grassroots movement.

I need volunteers for construction, operations and acquisition of donated ice skates for skate rental. I need to know more about the folks who will use this. I primarily want students, faculty and staff to use this. Though if it’s cold enough in December and January between semesters, I’d see about opening it up to the community.

Here’s what I can tell you:

  • The rink will be unrefrigerated. If you know someone with money to buy a 12-ton chiller and a better rink system, tell me. But we’re going au natural.
  • The rink will either be 48′ x 96′, 60’x 80′ or 50’x 100′
  • That size depends on location. I’m still in talks trying to find an agreeable location.

This both excites and scares me. The scary part is not knowing what Mother Nature will do. Two winters ago was frigid as can be. Last winter dumped over three feet of snow.

As well as hoping to acquire enough skates for people who need to rent skates.

The exciting part is seeing this rink filled, seeing people enjoy ice skating and hockey in Allegany County again. I don’t know too many students at FSU who will make the drive to Wisp Resort in McHenry just for ice skating in the winter. This helps make it more accessible for them or else that’s an 80-minute roundtrip drive plus at least 60-90 minutes of skating. That’s a three-plus hour excursion that’ll be hard to do on a school night. And a lot of students don’t have cars up here either.

I hope to share more news soon about the progress of this project.

In the meantime, take this survey about your opinions concerning an ice rink at FSU:

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/VTDRVQL

And if you’d like to help or donate to the cause, please leave a comment.

 

 

10th Year Anniversary of Riverside YMCA Rink Closing

In my day (evening?) dreaming of an ice rink once returning to Allegany County, Md., I turned to Google to entertain me.

The search made me realize I missed the milestone, or gravestone, of the Ort Family Ice Arena. April marked 10 years since the ice rink at the Riverside YMCA in Cumberland closed for good.

In my sulking, I found a few odds and ends tied to the history of the rink. (Read my take on a 1986 study on bringing an ice rink to Allegany County if you want to go way back.)

It was well known that it was the first YMCA to have an ice rink on site of one of its clubs, but other YMCA locations, or just Y now, looked to Cumberland for inspiration.

Officials from a Rockport, Maine, YMCA visited Cumberland’s rink in 1999, according to the Bangor Daily News.  The Riverside YMCA in Cumberland opened in 1997. The ice was removed after April 2006. It’s been 10 years in Cumberland without an ice rink.

A month after that article was published, officials dropped plans to add a rink because they learned a businessman in the community was going to build one.

Probably a wise move.

The other tidbit is the whereabouts of the original Ort Family Ice Arena manager.

Gary Baldwin, who also served as an interim CEO of Riverside YMCA, is the general manager of the Lou & Gib Reese Ice Arena in Newark, Ohio. That’s just a 40-minute drive east of Columbus. It’s also about four hours from Cumberland.

Baldwin turned up on a page mentioning his Cumberland experience on the website of the National Collegiate Hockey Association, a new league for club hockey programs.

The league posted a mini-biography/thank you to Baldwin as the rink hosts the NCHA championships. The biography noted how the rink almost shuttered 10 years ago but local businesses and volunteers raised $1.5 million to keep it open.

Compare that to the fundraising campaign that still brought in money to the YMCA but they decided that the money wasn’t going to be used to save the rink.

What if?

It’s such a sad situation the rink isn’t here anymore. I really wish I had the money to build one myself here. But my luck ran out playing slots at Rocky Gap Casino, and the lottery balls aren’t bouncing my way.

Now, I pointed out on here before that it’s possible any rink could have been doomed here when the higher paying factory and manufacturing jobs left Allegany County and the area in the past 10 years.

On the flip side, when the rink closed it was when the first season of NHL hockey was wrapping up following the 2004-2005 lockout. The 2005-2006 season was the first season in the league for Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. Both the Capitals and Penguins finished last in their divisions.

Ten years later, their success and notoriety caused an explosion and resurgence in youth and particularly adult hockey in both regions. Would the rink have seen the same resurgence if it continued to operate during the rise of Ovi and Sid?

I’d like to think so but there are so many other factors. We’ve seen new rinks, renovated rinks and added sheets in both the Baltimore and D.C. areas in that time. Pittsburgh has seen new rinks but there has been a market adjustment the past couple years there, especially with a state-of-the-art Penguins practice rink in Cranberry Township. Others have closed in that metro area as there is a movement to build a new one in an armory.

But in this region—Cumberland-Johnstown-Uniontown—it’s a struggle.

As you know, Planet Ice in Johnstown is closing in July, leaving the first Kraft Hockeyville USA down a rink. That community still has two other rinks. The Ice Mine is for sale outside of Connellsville, Pa. Wisp Resort in McHenry, Md., is vehemently opposed to using its outdoor ice rink for shinny or anything resembling hockey.

Somehow, there are more people in this county in 2016 compared to 2006 but fewer people are living in the largest city, Cumberland. That’s going against trends where people are preferring to moving back to the city.

Bedford and Somerset counties in Pennsylvania—both just north of Allegany County—have lost population from 2010 to 2015. And Cambria County, where Johnstown is, just bleeds out population. The county lost 10,000 people from 2001 to 2016. That’s an entire town.

So, it’s certainly a struggle. But let’s focus back here for a minute.

I’m encouraged that Allegany County is opening hotels left and right, which means there are needs for business travelers and vacationers to be here more and more. We’re seeing more chain restaurants invest here–Cracker Barrel, Buffalo Wild Wings, a new Chick-fil-A–in addition to a new shopping center with Aldi, PetSmart and others in LaVale.

If only we can land some larger companies that pay well for people who want to live here, then the dream of bringing back an ice rink can return.

 

Exclusive: Ellenton, Fla., ice rink sold

Update:

Ellenton Ice has sold for $6 million to American Ice Rinks Ellenton LLLP, according to a deed filed with the Manatee County Clerk.

The full price is $6,020,000.

American Ice Rinks is the same owner as the Space Coast Iceplex, as originally reported, and business documents show that both rinks are registered to Matthew Smith. The deed also reveals that the seller, Mike Bennett and business partner Marv Kaplan, retain some rights over the electronic billboard they bought and constructed at the rink. That’s a prime billboard on a heavily traveled interstate at an exit shared with the Ellenton Premium Outlets.

Smith and his wife Natalia Smith acquired the Brevard County ice rink in 2014, according to FloridaToday.com.

The Smiths are well versed in ice rinks and competitive ice skating, the website reported:

Before arriving in Brevard, Matt Smith spent 15 years managing and operating an ice rink in San Diego. Both he and his wife have experience as skating coaches and were competitive figure skaters.

Matt Smith was the Junior National Champion of Canada in Figure Skating and spent four years on the Canadian national skating team. He has coached Olympic silver medalist Sasha Cohen, as well as other world-class athletes. His wife, Natalia Smith, set the Guinness World Record for the fastest spin on ice skates.

Because of their clout in the international skating community, the Smiths could boost the profile of the iceplex’s skating programs.

On the figure skating side, this sounds like a perfect fit for the Smiths. Ellenton Ice has regularly been the training home for Olympic skaters. Among those who trained in Ellenton include pairs Nathan Bartholomay and Felicia Zhang in Sochi, Mark Ladwig and Amanda Evora in Vancouver, Jeremy Barrett and Caydee Denney in Vancouver (both Florida natives!) plus Canadians Paige Lawrence and Rudy Sweigers along with Brits David King and Stacy Kemp also train at the rink for the Olympics and other competitions.

That’s a program they can directly affect the most. Youth hockey is almost on autopilot between having adult organizations and now the Tampa Bay Lightning being heavily involved in high school leagues and conducting camps. The Bolts are also providing a retired Lightning player to help co-coach each high school team.

Adult hockey? That remains to be seen. I don’t know how they handled it at Space Coast, but the director of adult hockey at Ellenton, Bill Walleshauser, wasn’t immediately rehired, according to his Facebook page.

I don’t know if Smith is bringing his own guy over from Brevard to run the program, or having someone else double duties locally, but it’s a touchy decision for some folks.

The rink has adult programs running on two sheets with six leagues, A through D plus a 30+ league. That’s a lot of people to manage, a lot of refs to schedule and having to deal with suspensions and other beer league drama.

What I’m most interested in is what Smith’s vision is for the vacant sports bar, which has had a revolving door of tenants even from the rink’s very start as the J.P. Igloo. Fun fact: The original restaurant that was supposed to be housed in that space was a R.J. Gators, which went out of business entirely as a chain then was revived in Bradenton.

Also, there’s an indoor lacrosse/soccer space in Ellenton Ice, too, that will have to be managed, along with a gym upstairs. They could use new flooring, maybe finally replacing the old Igloo logo at the entrance.

My pet peeve when I lived down there — cosmetically speaking — was this hockey player statue that was breaking through the side of the building facing Interstate 75. It’s painted in old Mighty Ducks of Anaheim colors because it was the uniform of an old youth or junior team when the rink opened. It really needs to be repainted to reflect the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Anyway, after reading and sharing stories about a slew of rink closures in Pittsburgh and Johnstown, it’s nice to see a rink staying open after being purchased.

Original:

Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex in Ellenton, Fla., has been sold to the owners of the Space Coast Iceplex in Rockledge, Fla. Price hasn’t been disclosed but not all employees have been rehired.

The ice rink has long been on the market, owned by Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Mike Bennett through his company MJ Squared, and business partner Marv Kaplan.

The asking price on Loopnet, a commercial real estate listings site, last year was $12.5 million. The rink recently went a minor renovation and installed a video billboard to bring in revenue beside Interstate 75 but a space for a restaurant has been vacant for at least three years. It was last occupied by Ellenton Steakhouse.

 

Conflicted About Kraft Hockeyville

Kraft HockeyvilleI’m having mixed emotions about what rink I’m supporting for this year’s Kraft Hockeyville.

The Rockville Ice Arena here in Maryland is one of the top 10 finalists. It boasts quite a success story and quite a few of the Capitals players’ children have played there over the years. One of them being current Maple Leaf William Nylander and his little brother Alex Nylander when their dad Michael “Circles” Nylander played here…twice.

There’s also, nearly the same amount of a drive away from me, the Twin Ponds East Rink in Harrisburg, Pa. It’s close to Hershey, Pa., where the Caps affiliate Hershey Bears play in the Giant Center.

Here’s the deal: Rockville, and Montgomery County for that matter, is probably the most affluent community in the Kraft Hockeyville Top 10. Montgomery County consistently ranks high nationally for its household income thanks to cities like Bethesda, Chevy Chase and Potomac.

I haven’t played in that rink since high school, but looking in the photos it looks well maintained. Probably just cramped and I’m sure they’d like to build new, larger locker rooms to benefit the elite teams.

Given the demographic of the families who play there, I’m sure the community could easily come up with the money itself through philanthropic partners and patrons.

Just by being in the top 10 the rink is guaranteed $10,000. I think they’d be happy with that. Moving on would mean $25,000, if they are runner-up it’s $75,000 and top prize is $150,000.

Also, one of the grand prizes is a pre-season game held in the rink. It’s too small so it would have to be played in the next closest arena…which is the Verizon Center.

This isn’t as cool of an experience as last year where Johnstown and its Cambria County War Memorial Arena was a runaway favorite. The county-owned and privately-managed rink was in danger of shutting down the last few years because of the financial challenges. The county has the largest population loss of any Pennsylvania county in the last five years, too.

The “Slap Shot” history made it endearing, and fortunately the county and state were pumping money into it anyway for a new subfloor, which couldn’t be installed in time for the pre-season game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning.

The NHL and its partners went above and beyond, providing additional improvements beyond the grand prize money to make the rink safe to play in for NHL players.

A year later, a competing rink across town, Planet Ice, announced it will shut down. If you’re a reader of this blog, you know that isn’t too much of an issue because the North Central Recreation Center in Ebensburg was being used for maybe three hours a day and somehow stayed open. It is also owned by the county and managed by the same firm in charge of running the War Memorial. A new general manager was brought to remedy scheduling issues and the Planet Ice closure solves all of that.

That community is definitely facing economic woes where they’re lucky to make ends meet let alone have enough money to play hockey. So, even rink upgrades can’t solve bigger issues regarding hockey and rink availability in the community.

I haven’t been in Twin Ponds in ages either, but the rink’s owner Reed Patton told The Sentinel in Carlisle, Pa., he has a growing list of things to replace. Really, any rink hitting the 20-year mark has growing projects that they have to tackle:

“These things are very difficult to run,” Patton said. “This is the hardest thing I’ve done. There’s stuff that just gets worn down — compressors, roof, things like that that need attention. One of the items is the roof has been leaking as it gets older. There’d be some attention to the roof. Then for the rest of it, we would have to find out what Kraft Hockeyville would allow.”

What I like the Twin Ponds nomination is the game could potentially  be held in either the Giant Center or the “old barn” Hersheypark Arena. I could easily see a Capitals-Flyers match-up in the old arena, which has been recently renovated and is still used for Bears practices and community hockey games.

And actually, Patton also told The Sentinel, that after speaking with the Bears, the game would likely be put in Hersheypark Arena:

“We would probably do that at the Hersheypark Arena,” Patton said. “We talked to the Bears about that. It’s just a bigger venue and that would hold more people. It would be a free game, too, and we’d probably end up with some kind of lottery for tickets because there’d be so much demand for them.”

 

Some of the other nominees have really, really nice rinks.

I’m sure the historic Olympic Center in Lake Placid will get some votes for the history, but with a venue that big, I feel like the money won’t go that far.

There’s another rink outside of Chicago on the list that looks posh and well manicured and another that wants to build a third ice sheet.

The only one on the list that features Jeremy Roenick narrating the poor conditions is Lakeview Arena in Marquette, Mich. They show how the roof leaks and the compressor is about shot and the glass supports are rusted.

Since I can vote 50 times a day online and another 50 via text, I think I’m going to be splitting my votes in the first round. There are some communities that need the help more than Rockville.

Report: Planet Ice rink near Johnstown to close in July

When Cambria County’s population data revealed that it has the highest population decline of any Pennsylvania county in the last five years, you knew that meant some businesses have or will close because there aren’t enough people and dollars to support them.

Unfortunately, one of those victims is Planet Ice in Richland Township, right across from the Johnstown Galleria mall.

The Tribune-Democrat reports the rink will close July 31, 2016, and its Zamboni and equipment will be donated to Cambria County, which owns the other two rinks in town.

The ice rink already shut down its Facebook and Twitter pages, which would ultimately be filled with a lot of upset comments and a few spewing something nasty. However, it would also be a place for people looking for answers.

The paper also reports that the owners, who bought the rink in 2010 to avoid a closure then, will convert the rink to something else.

The War Memorial was already in danger of shuttering if not for the miraculous Hockeyville funding and additional government funding for improvements. And it will remain to be seen if that will be enough.

The War Memorial will see an uptick of business, however, while it will try to accommodate some programs, those time slots might take away from high-revenue events that pack the arena as opposed to beer league games.

The closure will also bring closure to a series of posts I wrote about how the North Central Recreation Center rink in Ebensburg was barely open. Maybe it would be open for 1-3 hours a night.

The NCRC and War Memorial are both owned by the county and managed by a private firm, SMG. The new manager hired in December said the North Central rink would be used to its maximum potential, and well, he’s certainly correct. He didn’t even have to seek out anything.

About 40 minutes northeast, Galactic Ice in Altoona will also likely gain some business, too.

The Hagerstown (Md.) Ice and Sports Complex sometimes has maybe 2-3 guys who also play in Johnstown from time to time because of where they live in Pennsylvania and they happen to work near the rink. That rink might pick up at maximum 5 players spread across various programs if any.

Overall, the ice rink business is in flux in Western Pennsylvania.

The Ice Mine near Connellsville is for sale, and its unknown if a new buyer would keep it as a rink.

There have been various changes, closures and sales for Pittsburgh area rinks, too, all the while a new one is being proposed near the University of Pittsburgh. Plus, the new Lemieux UMPC rink opened north of Pittsburgh in Cranberry Township last year.

For folks in the greater Cumberland, Md., area, Planet Ice’s closure removes yet another option who didn’t want to travel to Galactic Ice or the Hagerstown rink. Or Morgantown’s rink for those living closer to Frostburg.

Hopefully the bleeding of rinks will end soon, but there will likely be more pain soon.