Newark has bred standouts in sports including boxing, baseball, track and field, basketball, football and soccer. A Brick City native has even made his mark in fencing, competing in several Olympics.
Given the city’s commitment to the sport in recent years, the possibility of a Newarker one day making it to the NHL could be more likely than it’s ever been.
“There’s not a huge hockey following in urban areas in general. But once we get the kids out there, they try it and they fall in love,” said Dennis Ruppe, the co-director the nonprofit Hockey in Newark program. “Then it becomes word-of-mouth.”
Ruppe, whose group promotes the sport among city youth, was one of hundreds of people at the Ironbound Recreation Center on Rome Street Saturday for the unveiling of the facility’s refurbished ice-skating rink, which underwent more than $500,000 of repairs and upgrades in the last few months.
“There was an investment for new lockers and new matting. There was some repair work on the compressors [for making ice] and the beachers,” said East Ward Councilman Augusto Amador. “But the investment paid off because this place looks gorgeous compared to how it looked six months ago.”
Ice time at the rink is reserved for city residents who want to skate, as well as for youth and adult hockey. The hockey team at East Side High School also plays there, as well as groups from outside the city who will rent the space out. With relatively few rinks in the region, officials expect they will have no trouble attracting paying customers to the space.
The rink’s sprucing up is not only just an attempt to provide another recreation option to Newark’s 280,000 residents, however, but is also part of an overarching effort to promote hockey among youth in the community. The Hockey in Newark program is sponsored by the NHL, which is supporting youth leagues in cities where the professional league has teams. The New Jersey Devils have called Prudential Arena home since 2007.
Three former Devils players -- Ken Daneyko, Bruce Driver and Grant Marshall -- were among the attendees at Saturday’s grand re-opening.
The NHL program targets youth populations not traditionally drawn to the sport. The New York Rangers are partners with Hockey in Harlem, for example, and there are similar teams in Washington, DC and in Philadelphia. Hockey in Newark sponsors teams of local youth that will play against those programs and others as well in coming months.
The message Saturday was that hockey isn’t restricted to any one group of kids. Ed Snider, of the Philadelphia program, which is affiliated with the professional Flyers organization, said half of the youth participants there are African-American, Hispanic or Asian.
Kevin Lopez, a graduate of Technology High School whose parents are from Colombia and Ecuador, admits his family was far more interested in futbol than hockey. But he caught the bug after playing with the Hockey in Newark program and later for East Side High. Any public high school student is eligible to play hockey at the Ironbound school, home of the city’s only public high school hockey team.
“This renovation shows there are people committed to Newark. Even though I’m at Princeton now the warmest memories I have are from here,” said Lopez, who is a freshman at the Ivy League university. “I’m excited to know this rink will now harbor even more memories.”
The public ice skating schedule for the rink is: Tuesdays: 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. (Hockey teams, Adults); Tuesdays 1-2:30 pm (general public); Wednesdays to Fridays, 11:30 to 2:30 p.m. (general public); Wednesday and Friday, 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. (general public); Saturdays, 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. (general public).
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