CVIndependent

Sun09272020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

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

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

On this week's elegant Independent comics page: Red Meat prepares for a lovely meal at a seafood restaurant; The City catches up on the news out of Arizona; Jen Sorenson (who was just named the winner of the 2014 Herblock Prize for editorial cartooning!) ponders the freedoms of customers versus the freedoms of business owners; and The K Chronicles heads outdoors to go to a hockey-game spectacle.

Published in Comics