Four-sheet ice facility in Irvine on the horizon
In a state starved for more ice time, the late-November announcement of plans to develop a massive four-sheet ice-skating and training facility at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine has the potential to be a game-changer for grassroots hockey.
Three of the Great Park Ice Complex’s rinks will have room for 500 spectators and the fourth will house 2,500. In addition, the complex will serve as the Anaheim Ducks’ practice center and will open the door to Southern California playing host to national-level ice hockey and figure skating events.
“We can go after different events with that many sheets,” The Rinks vice president Art Trottier said. “With that many seats, we can now attract (USA Hockey National Championships) and other events. We hope to sit down with U.S. Figure Skating. It opens up different opportunities to us.”
Construction of the complex, which will be managed by The Rinks’ ice management team, is scheduled to begin in the middle of 2016 with the potential for an early-2018 opening. The Irvine Ice Foundation – a nonprofit comprised of civic leaders – will own the complex. The Samueli Foundation – started by Ducks owners Henry and Susan Samueli – will serve as a major foundation contributor.
It’ll be the first four-sheet complex constructed in the state; the fourth sheet at Sharks Ice-San Jose was added long after the facility opened.
It’ll be the eighth facility in The Rinks’ family, joining ice rinks in Anaheim, Lakewood, Westminster and Yorba Linda, as well as inline complexes in Corona, Huntington Beach and Irvine.
The NHL’s Ducks, who practice at the 20-year-old Anaheim Ice, will benefit, but the complex really addresses a glaring ice-time need for all of the Ducks’ youth programs.
“Not only will it allow the Ducks to do quite a bit more, but it helps with ice time for the (Anaheim Ducks High School Hockey League),” said Craig Johnson, the Jr. Ducks’ director of coaches as well as the head varsity coach of Santa Margarita High. “The ice time is the No. 1 thing because the high schools and the Jr. Ducks are buying ice from other rinks all over Orange County.”
Director and coach Kathy McGarrigle has seen the Lady Ducks program grow from three teams and 55 girls to 11 and more than 180 in the past decade. As with the high school and Jr. Ducks teams, the need for ice is great.
“Every time there’s a learn-to-skate program, we have dozens of kids, including five or six more girls, who want to join,” she said. “Those run several times a year, and it can be a struggle to find spots for them to skate. There’s such a shortage of ice in Southern California because hockey is growing faster than rinks can support it.”
The location and attention to detail being given to the project should broaden hockey’s appeal further in a heavily populated, affluent area.
“There are so many houses in that area,” Johnson said. “It’s going to be better than anything out there, and being part of the Great Park, they’ll have fields and courts nearby for other sports so there will be great exposure.
“It’s going to be a destination.”
The complex will benefit the entire region, Jr. Ducks director of player Personnel Alex Kim said.
“Yes it elevates the club, but more importantly for Southern California hockey it makes a bigger impact,” Kim said. “San Jose has done a great job (with Sharks Ice); look at how big their men’s league is and how their overall participation numbers have grown.
“The Rinks’ project will bring another dynamic to the Southern California footprint nationally.”
And nationals coming to Southern California would only elevate the game’s profile further – and bring a nice side benefit.
“If we could bring nationals in, then our families, who already have to pay for so much travel, don’t have to go across the country,” McGarrigle said.
The project has been on the radar of Trottier and Ducks CEO Michael Schulman, who’s the managing director of H&S Ventures, which operates Honda Center and the Ducks, among other entities, for nearly a decade.
“Mike and I worked on this for a number of years. We’re really excited,” Trottier said. “We’ve had five or six years of building growth (adding to The Rinks). This is a chance to grow even more.
“It’ll be a hub for hockey in the western U.S.”
– Chris Bayee