Longtime hockey lovers Claiborn M. Carr III and Tom Hendrix remember their younger days when they played the game outside. Pond hockey. The weather was cold. The ice was inviting.
“Being in New England and skating on backyard ponds, we‘ve always appreciated the fact of playing hockey outside,” said Hendrix, who played hockey outdoors in upstate New York near Lake Placid.
Carr, now president and majority owner of The Gardens Ice House in Laurel, Md., and Hendrix, vice president and general manager, wanted to bring that outdoors taste to their ice complex. They had talked about it for years. The result? Whitey’s Pond, an outdoor rink that will be used for 3v3 adult hockey, among several other activities.
The rink is named after Rolland “Whitey” Guenin, an Indiana-based hockey rink operator and designer. Guenin, a member of the Indiana State High School Hockey Hall of Fame, is now retired but helped out Hendrix and Carr many times during their 17 years of operating The Gardens Ice House.
“All he [Guenin] was doing was helping out a friend,” Carr said of the help he and Hendrix received over the years. “That’s what we wanted to honor. Too much of life today is people looking out to get something in return. Whitey never wanted anything in return. He just wanted to give us some help.”
Whitey’s Pond, which increases the number of ice surfaces at The Gardens Ice House to five, was dedicated in an opening ceremony Nov. 1. Guenin made the trip from Indiana for the ceremony. Skating began the next day, after the temperatures dropped.
“You could see that he [Guenin] was touched,” said Hendrix, a longtime friend of Whitey. “He keeps his emotions to himself, but you could tell by his talk and the emails that I have gotten from him since that he’s very touched that we would think of him for this honor of naming the rink after him.”
The addition of Whitey’s Pond further strengthens an adult hockey program that already is the eighth largest in the United States. More than 2,000 adult hockey league player memberships are in place at The Gardens Ice House, according to the 2013 USA Hockey registration numbers. Nationally, more than 160,000 play in adult hockey leagues.
The growth of those numbers brings a sense of pride to Carr and Hendrix, who themselves began their friendship years ago when they played in an adult hockey league. Hendrix had previously played collegiately at Bowling Green State University and Carr was on the freshman team at Middlebury College.
“We both loved the sport,” Carr said. “We both played since we could walk almost. But we really got to know each other playing in the men’s league we were in.”
Since opening in 1996, the Ice House has strongly developed its adult leagues. Among its best-known teams are the Gerihatricks. All of the team’s players are over 60 years old. They have been featured on a national morning news show. Their 10th annual Gerihatricks Tournament will be held in March at the Ice House.
“We have grown the adult league to the eighth largest in USA Hockey — the largest, they indicate, under one roof in the same building,” Carr said. “And that all started from scratch. And that is in Laurel, Md. Who would have thought that in Laurel, Md., you have one of the largest adult hockey programs in all of USA Hockey?
“Here we are, number eight. We just keep plugging away and it keeps growing every year.”
The key to developing adult hockey, Carr said, is getting kids to play hockey.
“We keep trying to find ways to get the young kids into skating and playing hockey,” he said. “We know that once they do it, they will have a good experience, and if they are properly supported and it’s a joyful experience, they will have the passion that Tom and I have had all of our life. They will stay with us or they will play someplace for the rest of their lives.”
Whitey’s Pond is a place where some of those early experiences can bloom. In addition to the 3v3 adult hockey games, the outdoor surface will also be used for youth hockey clinics and other beginning hockey sessions, recreational hockey and public skating sessions.
“You can drop in at any time [during the public sessions] and skate just like when you used to go to the pond,” Hendrix said. “There was always a segment that just wanted to skate at one end of the pond. Everybody playing hockey was always at the other end.”
Adult hockey play at Whitey’s Pond began Nov. 12 and will continue through the end of February. League games are on Wednesdays with rookie night on Mondays. The games include three 12-minute periods. A scoreboard is positioned above the ice, attached to the outside of one of the Ice House buildings.
The Gardens Ice House also has an Olympic-sized rink, two NHL-sized rinks and a studio/training rink called the Ice Den. The Whitey’s Pond surface measures 90 feet by 44 feet and has a refrigeration unit in place to be used when the weather alone isn’t cold enough to freeze the ice.
The entire complex is open every day, including holidays. The Ice House participated in USA Hockey’s Try Hockey for Free Day, getting 52 first-timers to take part. Free sessions are also held for two hours every New Year’s Day.
“That’s our gift to the community,” Carr said. “And we do it because that’s the way we think people ought to start their new year off.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.