CVIndependent

Sat05302020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

On May 8, the Desert Ice Castle announced it was closing for good, citing the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason.

“It is with great sadness and regret that—due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis and despite our best efforts to remain in business—Desert Ice Castle has no choice but to cease operations, effective immediately,” read the notice at deserticecastle.com, where various equipment from the facility is now on sale.

While the pandemic has caused many valley businesses to close—and will sadly claim many more before it’s all over—COVID-19 may have simply been the final nail in the figurative coffin of the Cathedral City rink.

On April 13, 2018, the Desert Ice Castle filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy with the United States Bankruptcy Court’s Central District of California in Riverside. The rink apparently settled with its creditors, staying open—but on Dec. 13, 2019, Desert Ice Castle, LLP, owned by Anthony Liu, filed both a Certificate of Dissolution and a Certificate of Cancellation with California’s Secretary of State Office.

Regardless of the cause of the Desert Ice Castle’s demise, the closure left Coachella Valley hockey-lovers devastated.

“I was really sad, and kind of emotional,” said Katie Evans, president of the Coachella Valley Youth Hockey Foundation. “For me personally—speaking now as just a hockey mom and not as the foundation president—my son has spent six years of his life in that rink. He’s made some of his very best friends in that building, and so have I. We’ve gotten to know wonderful people in our community while we’re standing together against the glass watching our kids play, and he has spent wonderful moments on the ice and on the bench there. He’s had birthdays there. We’ve celebrated Christmas with our teammates there. So the whole idea of that building not being there anymore is just really sad. It’s meant a lot to us. It’s been an important place in our lives, and we’re just really sad that it won’t be around anymore.

“From the perspective of the Hockey Foundation or anyone who’s involved in hockey locally, it’s a tough pill to swallow. Our hockey programs (have been) so great here, and we have so many wonderful coaches and players. We’ve already struggled (in the past) to keep those programs robust. Now, of course, not having a local rink will (make it) difficult for players and their families to keep playing.”

Adults who relied on the ice rink—the only regulation-size hockey rink within at least 50 miles—for their skating enjoyment have been left in the lurch as well. Justin Reschke, the vice president of business operations for the Palm Springs Power Baseball Club, has been a player in the Ice Castle’s Adult Hockey League for six years.

“I was disappointed. I was sad,” Reschke said. “It was something to look forward to each week. After you’ve been playing with the same group of guys for several years, (it’s hard) to have that taken away all of a sudden—especially now, when you’re looking forward to slowly resuming normal activities.

“I guess some of the writing was on the wall, but I don’t think any of us thought when we walked out of the rink the last time back in March, that would be it.”

In order to keep playing, Reschke said he and his teammates will probably start making trips to Riverside.

“The Los Angeles Kings help operate a rink out there, and many players who lived here and played at DIC have also played out in Riverside,” he said. “It’s a little farther drive, but I’m sure we’ll figure out carpools. There were five teams in our league, so, from across the whole league, we should be able to get, hopefully, a couple of full teams to head out there.”

Evans said her group remains committed to helping keep local hockey kids on the ice.

“The foundation is here to support players and their families.” Evans said. “So we’ll focus on continuing that effort, whatever needs to happen. If our players decide that they’re going to go play in Riverside or Ontario, or another rink that’s within driving distance, we’ll do our best to support them. Maybe it will be by helping with the player fees, because now the parents would be spending lots of money on gasoline. Or maybe someone needs a scholarship, or we can help out again with gear.

“We’ll look at ways to continue to support our local players until there’s another facility that they can use here locally,” Evans said. “And we have high hopes for that. The (American Hockey League) team that’s intending to come and play in Palm Springs is a big deal. It would provide a facility again—the proposed Palm Springs arena home to the AHL team would include two ice rinks—and hopefully, (it will bring) more attention to hockey as a sport.

“And who knows? I don’t know how long it will take to build that rink, but maybe another opportunity will arise where someone else builds a rink.”

While the pandemic and the resulting financial crisis have cancelled sports, live entertainment and large events for the time being, work is apparently proceeding on the New Arena at Agua Caliente. For a status update, the Independent reached out to the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, which connected us with the Oak View Group, the company that will operate the arena.

“The New Arena at Agua Caliente in Palm Springs will feature two ice rinks, and we anticipate that in addition to its place as the home of AHL Palm Springs, that it will be accessible to the Coachella Valley ice-sports community,” said John Bolton, senior vice president of entertainment with the Oak View Group, in a statement. “Given the current unprecedented times, discussions around arena construction timelines continue, and we will provide updates when available as we work closely with the city of Palm Springs and Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.”

Reschke said he is keeping his fingers crossed that construction remains on schedule.

“It would be tremendous to have a new rink that’s a top-notch facility right here in the community of Palm Springs,” Reschke said. “That’s something that a lot of the players at the Ice Castle had a lot of interest in. So let’s hope that’s still part of the plan and that it’s still on schedule for 2021, or close to it. Then, hopefully, we can get on it right away and reinvigorate the adult hockey community right here in the Coachella Valley.”

Published in Features

For my friend Matt, it was the permanent closure of Souplantation/Sweet Tomatoes—a restaurant where he had his first job—that made him fully realize the world we knew in early March was gone forever.

“I actually cried a few times yesterday, and it’s not just over big-chunk chicken-noodle soup and focaccia bread,” Matt wrote on Twitter. “It’s the realization that our lives will not ever ‘go back to normal.’ Our world is rapidly changing, and change is inevitable. I just didn’t expect it to be this fast.”

So many places, institutions and businesses are going to be wiped out by the pandemic and the resulting economic downturn—which may very well qualify as a depression by the time all is said and done. We are going to see a lot of closed-for-good announcements in the coming weeks and months—like the one we got today, from Cathedral City’s Desert Ice Castle. Many of the places, institutions and businesses that do survive may be changed drastically, too.

However … not all of these changes will be bad.

For example, the Seattle Times is reporting that 20 miles of streets in that city—initially closed to make it easier for people to be socially distant—will now forever be closed to traffic, changing them into permanent places for people to walk and bike safely.

Closer to home, I have been hearing that Palm Springs and other cities are looking into the possibility of closing down some streets and parking lots so they can be used by bars and restaurants. If the science continues to show that the virus doesn’t nearly spread as well outdoors, then this would be a perfect way for businesses to reopen in a safer and more-delightful way.

It’s up to all of us to speak out, advocate and do whatever we can to make sure our “new normals”—both during the fight against COVID-19 and afterward—are the best possible “normals” we can have.

So … let’s get to work!

Today’s news:

I was the guest on today’s edition of the Los Angeles Times’ Coronavirus in California podcast. I talked with my friend Gustavo Arellano a couple weeks ago about the state of local media today—and how completely jarring it was for April in the Coachella Valley to be so darned quiet.

• As of this writing, the county meeting regarding Dr. Cameron Kaiser’s health orders was still going. Will the county Board of Supervisors side with the good doctor or the impatient business community? Watch this link, from the Riverside Press-Enterprise, to find out.

• Gov. Newsom announced today that all California voters will be asked to vote by mail in November—although some polling places will remain open for those who insist on voting in person.

• How long will it be until we can get haircuts again? Mid-June, perhaps? This is what Gov. Newsom had to say about that today: “Phase 3 (which includes the opening of hair salons and barbers) is not a year away. It’s not six months away. It’s not even three months away; it may not even be more than a month away. We just want to make sure that we have a protocol in place to secure customer safety, employee safety and allow the businesses to thrive in a way that is sustainable.”

• OK, OK, maybe mid-July for that haircut? A Los Angeles Times analysis reveals that per Gov. Newsom’s stated criteria, almost all California counties are nowhere near being able to properly move to Phase 3.

• Eisenhower Medical Center has started releasing Coachella Valley-specific hospitalization numbers. The takeaway—we’ve flattened the curve here—but it remains flat, and we’re not on the downside yet.

Yet another person within the White House’s inner circle has the virusKatie Miller, who is Mike Pence’s press secretary, and Trump senior adviser Stephen Miller’s wife.

• From our partners at CalMatters, via the Independent: Counties and cities in California are facing massive, unprecedented budget deficits. Expect horrible cuts and yet more layoffs to come.

• Good news: After a public outcry and a whole lot of negative media attention, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey decided to let the COVID-19 modelers at the University of Arizona and Arizona State University keep doing their work after all.

• The country is heading for a rental crisis, according to this sobering article from Politico.

• From the “We Are Not Making This Up” files: We have verified this TMZ report that 2020 U.S. quarters feature … a bat. Yes, really.

• As predicted, the federal government’s distribution method for promising COVID-19 drug remdesivir has become a fustercluck, or something like that.

• If your iPhone has been acting stupid lately, we have some good news: Apple Store locations are starting to reopen. Aaaand the bad news: The ones in California remain closed indefinitely.

• Even though we’re not sure how this would work in 108-degree weather, we implore the good folks at the Palm Springs Cultural Center and D’Place Entertainment to look into the fact that the coronavirus has made drive-in movie theaters a thing again.

That’s all for today! Please buy our Coloring Book, because it’s 1) awesome, and 2) sales benefit the Independent AND the Create Center for the Arts’ efforts to make PPE items AND local artists. Also, please consider supporting independent local journalism if you can spare a buck or three. Barring anything huge, the Daily Digest will take the weekend off, and we’ll be back Monday.

Published in Daily Digest

It was a balmy 86 degrees when I decided to drop by the Desert Ice Castle in Cathedral City.

Built via a public-private partnership in 2011, the rink is at what was once the site of a Coca Cola-bottling plant. On this day, it was a beehive of activity as members of the Desert Blaze hockey program skated on the ice. Overseeing the practice was Jeff Larson.

A 54-year-old native of Minnesota, Larson played collegiate hockey at the University of Minnesota and was an acquaintance of Herb Brooks, a hockey legend who coached the U.S. men’s hockey team to the “Miracle on Ice” gold medal in the 1980 Olympics. He works with a cadre of coaches in the program.

“The owner of the rink approached me and asked if I could help start a hockey program five years ago. Having played since age 6, the game is in my blood, so I signed on,” Larson said. “We started out with some free and open tryouts. We didn’t even have enough equipment for the kids. The rink bought 30 sets of gear, and we got a grant from the National Hockey League Players’ Association for another 30.”

Of course, you can’t play ice hockey without knowing how to skate, and when the Desert Blaze teams began, many of the players had only seen hockey on television—and had never been on ice. Larson called in some favors, and some former Canadian and U.S. players helped get the program off the ground.

“We had about 40 kids raring to go,” said Larson. “We opened up the gate—and 40 kids fell right over. Fortunately, we had some good skating coaches around, and we righted the ship.”

Nowadays, most players have taken skating lessons before joining. The Desert Blaze program includes five teams, set up according to age groups, that travel. The players range in age from 6 to 17, including some female players at the younger levels.

Being a hockey mom or dad means a lot of driving: The Blaze teams play throughout Southern California.

“It takes a tremendous amount of sacrifice on the part of parents,” Larson said. “Parents travel many miles to support the Blaze on the road. It takes a special kind of parent to be a hockey mom or dad, and we are lucky to have them.”

While still somewhat exotic here in the desert, ice hockey is receiving increased support. The Desert Blaze teams have received help, including coaching clinics, from the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks. The two NHL teams and the minor-league Ontario Reign also try to schedule game outings for the teams. In fact, several Los Angeles Kings alumni are scheduled to compete in a fundraising golf tournament hosted by the Blaze on Friday, Dec. 2.

“There are quite a few ex-NHL players like Grant Fuhr and Jim Pappin who live in the desert. We reach out to them and they stop by. The kids really enjoy that,” Larson said.

The future looks bright for hockey in the desert. There are rumors that an NHL team may use the Desert Ice Castle as a one- or two-day practice facility in 2017. The St. Louis Blues, Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames have stopped by Cathedral City, and at least two NHL team owners have homes here in the desert.

For more information on the Desert Blaze or the Dec. 2 fundraiser, call 760-578-9080, or visit www.desertblazehockey.com.

Published in Sports

There is but one ice rink operating in the Coachella Valley: Cathedral City’s Desert Ice Castle, offering “the coolest fun in the desert,” according to its slogan.

While the Desert Ice Castle is open to the public, it also has a mysterious element to it—including the fact that it’s a main training spot for a potential 2014 Olympic medalist. I wanted to talk to the owner—Anthony Liu, a former Olympic men’s figure-skater and a seven-time Australian champion—about the Desert Ice Castle. But for weeks, he eluded my phone calls and requests to talk.

So at 7 a.m. on one recent Saturday morning, I went to the DIC with my camera, hoping to photograph and talk to Liu. I’d been told that he was back in town briefly between international trips to skating competitions being held in preparation for the Olympics—two of which had been won by his star pupil, Japanese Olympic medal contender Tatsuki Machida. On this morning, he was coaching some advanced skating pupils and was already on the ice when I got there.

Shortly after I started taking pictures, I spotted Liu through my telephoto lens: He was staring right at me, and did not look pleased. I lowered my camera, smiled and nodded across the ice. With a curt nod of his own, Liu skated toward me.

I introduced myself and explained why I was there. He smiled and said: “Please don’t mention me in the article.”

“Don’t mention you?” I replied, quite surprised. “But you own this place.”

Again, he smiled. “Well, you can mention I’m an owner, but please don’t use a picture of me. Thank you.”

He turned away and stepped back onto the ice. With that, the hoped-for photo session and interview came to an end.


On a recent warm winter day, as I followed assistant manager Jennifer Gonzalez (right) into the rink area, I was met by an Arctic air blast. The Ice Castle was indeed living up to its aforementioned slogan.

What brings the most people to this Perez Road facility? “The hockey leagues definitely bring in the most money right now,” said Gonzalez. “We have four travelling teams for the kids (ages 4-17), and an in-house adult league with six teams, one of which is made up entirely of players from the 29 Palms Marine Corps Air Ground Combat base.

“The public skating is pretty popular, too, along with the birthday-party-room bookings, and it’s particularly busy on the weekends,” Jennifer said. “Friday and Saturday nights, the crowd is mostly younger folks without parents, while Sundays, we get mostly families skating together. And we’re always busiest in the summer, because it’s so cool in here.”

There must be obstacles to keeping the ice in good condition during those steamy desert summer months. “In the summer, it’s very expensive to run the three compressors needed to create and maintain the ice,” Gonzalez concurred. “And another challenge is to manage the condition of the ice, because the figure-skaters need soft ice, while the hockey teams must have hard ice, or the surface gets so chopped up that it’s unusable for figure-skating.”

The DIC is a family business. It’s owned by Liu, and managed by Andrew Luczynski, Liu’s father-in-law. Caroline, Liu’s wife, plays a substantial role as well.

Built on the site of a former Coca-Cola bottling plant, the DIC development effort began in earnest in mid-2010. The management team projected the rink would open in April 2011, but financial and construction challenges pushed back that date to Sept. 9, 2011. During construction, the common belief in the international competitive figure-skating community was that the Desert Ice Castle was built to complement the training capabilities of a Southern California sister facility, the world-renowned Arrowhead Ice Castle, which had been bought by Liu in 2003.

For several decades, the Arrowhead Ice Castle was the picturesque training site of choice for many of the world’s most-serious Olympic figure-skating contenders, as well as their coaches, including the legendary Frank Carroll. The reigning 2010 Olympic men’s figure-skating champion Evan Lysacek had trained there, as had Michelle Kwan, Robin Cousins, Nicole Bobek, Surya Bonaly and Chen Lu. The list goes on.

When the DIC opened, Frank Carroll (who has a home in Palm Springs) committed to using the new rink as his training base. But in May 2013, an announcement came that he was returning to his former host rink, the Toyota Sports Center, in El Segundo. “Our figure-skating department is thrilled to have the return of this elite level of training,” said Juliette Harton, the director of skating at the Toyota Center, in a press release issued at the time. “Mr. Carroll brings strong, respected leadership to a superb staff deep with Olympic, world and national level coaches.”

That development was followed by another surprising move, made this past August: Liu closed the beloved Arrowhead rink. The announcement shocked the competitive figure-skating community. Liu cited the inability to get enough revenue from the community-participant activities such as hockey leagues and public sessions, and invited all of the coaches and athletes still working there to follow him to his new rink in Cathedral City. It’s unclear how many have.

Today, when you walk into the DIC foyer, you are confronted immediately by the wall of competitive figure-skating coaches who work there—headed up by Frank Carroll. Given Carroll’s publicized departure, one wonders why his photo still leads off the coaching display.

So who has replaced Carroll as the Ice Castle’s most-accomplished coach? It’s none other than Liu himself, thanks in part to his tutelage of Tatsuki Machida, who trained often at the DIC in 2013.

But no photo of Mr. Liu can be found on the coaching wall of fame—or anywhere else I saw at the DIC, for that matter.

Why does Anthony Liu insist on keeping such a low public profile, when promoting his professional stature could benefit his Desert Ice Castle endeavor? And what will happen to the stature of Liu and the Desert Ice Castle if Tatsuki Machida wins an Olympic medal, with the whole world watching?

Stay tuned.

Published in Features