Tim Whyte | Bring on Ice Station Santa Clarita

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I’ve made no secret of my love affair. Not THAT kind of love affair. It’s my lifelong love affair with hockey. My parents are both immigrants (legal) from Canada, so of course by the time I was 3 years old I had a hockey stick in my hands, because Canada.

When I grew up in the 1970s, Southern California had few ice rinks and few kids playing hockey. I was literally the only kid in my elementary school who played hockey, which made me something of a novelty, like the surfer kid who moves to Ohio.

That’s all changed, thanks partly to The Trade that brought Wayne Gretzky to the L.A. Kings in 1988. The Great One’s arrival ushered in a new era for my favorite sport. Fast forward to the 21st Century, and we’ve got local high schools with teams of their own, and thriving youth and adult programs up and down the state.

And, for the past 20 years, we’ve been fortunate to have the Ice Station Valencia right here in our hometown. It’s where my son played most of his youth hockey, and where I’ve played, off and on, in the adult leagues over the years.

That is, until March. At the onset of the COVID crisis, Ice Station announced it was closing, for good, disappointing thousands of hockey players, figure skaters, curlers, speed skaters and kids who just like to go skate in public session and hang out with their friends on a Friday night.

A “Save the Ice Station” movement was mounted, and hundreds turned out to sign a banner in support. There were reportedly some potential buyers, including the L.A. Kings, but behind-the-scenes scuttlebutt was that the owner’s initial asking price was too high.

Early on, I and others suggested the city of Santa Clarita should  look at it — municipal rinks are common community resources in other parts of North America.

Thankfully, the city listened to those who lamented the closure of the only rink within a reasonable drive of our hometown, and this Tuesday, the City Council is scheduled to consider a possible $14.49 million purchase of the two-story, 93,000-square-foot facility that features three ice surfaces: an NHL-sized rink, an Olympic-sized rink and the “Pond,” a small sheet that’s used for parties and lessons for little kids.

The facility also includes meeting spaces that could be used for events of the non-skating kind.

There will, as with anything like this, be naysayers. Some will question the expense and timing, but frankly the rink should do just fine in terms of operating costs vs. revenue (unlike many other sports’ participants, those who skate understand that it costs money to keep ice frozen), and the timing is this: If we lose the rink now, we lose it forever, because starting from scratch would be a more daunting proposition.

It’s a forward-thinking idea, as opposed to a “what’s-in-it-for-us-right-now” idea. 

There are also those who don’t especially care for ice sports. One said on Facebook, “Why one sports center and not another?”

Are you kidding? How many sports facilities does the city operate? Parks, softball fields, soccer fields, swimming pools, basketball and volleyball courts… the list goes on, and these are all things that improve quality of life for local residents of all ages.

Ice Station has been a valuable resource for two decades. Just thinking about my son’s cohort — kids born in 1994, 1995 and 1996 — I can rattle off a dozen names of kids who went on to play in college, gaining opportunities they otherwise might not have pursued. 

My son and two of his former Ice Station teammates — one from Saugus, one from Palmdale — went on to play at the University of Oklahoma. Both of the goalies (Saugus and Acton residents) from my son’s mite team (mites are 8 years old) went on to play college hockey — one of them at Harvard. Harvard! Now he’s a goalie in the minor leagues as part of the Phoenix Coyotes system, with a Harvard degree in his back pocket. (Yeah, he was always a smart kid). Another kid from that same mite team played NCAA Division 1 hockey back east, and has gone on to play professionally in France.

Without the Ice Station, would those same opportunities have evolved? Heck, because my son went to Oklahoma (and the hockey team is what first drew him there), now he’s chosen law school at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. 

Hockey opened doors for a lot of those kids, and those are just the ones off the top of my head, from one small cohort of players.

Should the council approve the purchase, it represents an investment in helping Santa Clarita continue to be a great place to live, work, play — and grow up.

I hope it works out, for present and future hockey players and skaters, and the community in general. And if it does work out, I just have one suggestion: 

Let’s change the name to Ice Station Santa Clarita.

Tim Whyte is editor of The Signal.

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