Renamed Cube in Santa Clarita proving to be home sweet home for West Ranch hockey
For 20 years, the Valencia Ice Station was the place where hockey players, figure skaters, and speed skaters from Santa Clarita and neighboring towns could always go to work on improving their skills and get ready to make the next steps in their careers.
The Valencia Ice Station was also home to the West Ranch Wildcats high school varsity and junior varsity hockey teams, members of the Los Angeles Kings High School Hockey League (LAKHSHL).
The news of the rink having to close in March of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic was not surprising to hear, as many other indoor sporting facilities had to do the same. The biggest shock for the ice skating community came on March 25, 2020 when it was announced that the rink would remain closed for good.
The closure of the Ice Station was a tough pill to swallow for everyone involved with the West Ranch hockey organization.
Dylan Matanzo, head coach of both the varsity and JV teams, described it as “a devastating blow.”
“You really don’t know what you have until you’ve lost it,” Matanzo said. “This was our players’ homes for many many years, even before high school, spending time here day and night, weekdays and weekends, working on improving their skills. Having to drive 30-40 minutes just to get on the ice was tough on these kids.”
The first step taken to save the rink was the creation of a petition advocating to save the rink. The petition received over 26,000 signings which shows how important it is to have an ice rink in Santa Clarita. West Ranch varsity team manager Leigh Ann Dunleavy created the petition along with West Ranch hockey VP and co-founder Stacey Titter, two of the biggest supporters of the movement to save the rink.
Once the petition began to gain a larger following on social media, Dunleavy and others decided to speak to the Santa Clarita City Council on the matter.
“Stacey and I had numerous conversations with the former mayor, Cameron Smyth, to make the case for saving the rink and we think these conversations, the petition and all the ice community members that spoke at city council meetings planted a seed for the city to step in and buy the rink,” said Dunleavy.
Their belief that the residents speaking to the council having an impact became fact when current mayor Bill Miranda stated, “We would not be here if it wasn’t for the passion and commitment and the grassroots movement of all the people here, and more beyond here, that said ‘we can’t let this stand,’” during his speech at the rink grand opening.
After the city of Santa Clarita purchased the rink for $14 million, the next step was to find a company to run the newly purchased rink. Eventually the LA Kings and American Sports Entertainment Centers (ASEC) were selected to be the joint venture company to run the operations of the rink, which was renamed by the city of Santa Clarita as The Cube Ice and Entertainment Center.
Luc Robitaille, president of hockey operations for the Kings, said the purchase was an important one.
“There is a high hockey demand in Santa Clarita, with a lot of fans in the area,” said Robitaille. “Running The Cube gives us the opportunity to get involved in day-to-day hockey coaching, sharing knowledge and communicating with fans.”
With renovations complete, The Cube’s grand opening was held on April 12, 2021, and with its doors open, The Cube was ready to welcome back the West Ranch Wildcats and the players were ready to hit the ice at their home rink for the first time in over 13 months.
Returning to practice at The Cube was very important to both West Ranch teams, especially for the seniors who were unsure if they would have a season to close out their high school hockey careers.
Ryan Groller, a senior at Valencia High School on the JV team stated, “It’s nice to play at our home rink one last time. It’s important for me to finish here because this will be my last year of playing hockey competitively, it’s nice to have a home rink so that more people come to our games and that we have that home town support.”
Nick Romeo, a junior at Golden Valley High School on varsity who has been with West Ranch hockey for three years, describes The Cube as “an anchor in the community.”
“The rink reopening filled a major void for me and having a great rink like this to call home is a great feeling,” said Romeo.
Before The Cube reopened, the team temporarily relocated to Iceoplex Simi Valley for tryouts, practices, and regular-season games. The commute was tough on the players who were also trying to balance school along with making it to practice on time. Most of the players live in Santa Clarita, which means they were in for a 40-minute drive every time they wanted to get on the ice.
The Cube hosted the playoffs and championship games of the LAKHSHL’s 2021 season. Despite not having a home rink for over a year, the West Ranch varsity and JV teams both had successful seasons with JV finishing second in their division and varsity going on to win the organization’s first league championship.
West Ranch players, coaches, and parents are all looking forward to the future of the organization at The Cube, and are thankful to everyone who worked so hard to bring back their home rink.
Top photo: Players and coaches from West Ranch hockey with Daryl Evans and Luc Robitaille at The Cube grand opening event. Photo/Leigh Ann Dunleavy
Middle photo: The West Ranch varsity team holds up the LAKHSHL trophy after its championship win. Photo/Thomas Gates
Bottom photo: The West Ranch JV team celebrates a goal during the championship game. Photo/Thomas Gates
— Jack Titter
(June 3, 2021)