My Favorite Arena Closes After 12 Years

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My Favorite Arena Closes After 12 Years

Tears were shed far and wide last fall as the last game was played in Yankee Stadium.  Very few tears, if any, will be shed for my favorite arena, the only local hockey rink, when it closes on Sunday.

Yet it will take more of a toll on any of our lives than the House that Ruth Built ever did.

This was the House that No One Built.  It changed ownership more times than a used car.  There was never a manager who lasted longer than two years. 

Just about every four months, there were rumors floating around town that the rink would be taken out and the building would be used for something else.  Of course, we never believed it.  Which is why we're taking it so hard now.

It's not just the hockey players that need this rink.  There's the figure skater who still hasn't found his place in the world.

There are the employees, some with families, who still haven't found a way to give up the dream, playing in the adult league most every night.

And how can we?  This is the place where we had all started the NHL dream.  Somewhere between learn-to-skate lessons in pre-school and learn-to-play-hockey instructions in the waning hours of the day, we fell in love with the game. 

You make the Mites travel team.  You ask for No. 99 and tuck in only the right side of your jersey.  You work on the triple deke and the knuckle-puck every practice.

Hockey taught us that true love exists.  I still owe part of my life to 5 a.m. practices, faceoff drops, coach fights, Mites on Ice, wraparounds, dekes, breakaways, mini-hockey, icing, offsides, elbowing, and teammates.

Chances are you didn't get along with all of them.  One year the captain didn't pass.  Another year one kid always stayed on the ice too long.  Someone kept screaming at your own team.  But you learned to put up with it.  You had to.  It was just another of the lessons to learn.

There was always learning with hockey.  Learning how to hit.  Learning how to accept you're going to get hit and it's going to hurt.  Learning how to sacrifice for the better of the team.  Learning strategy.  Learning how to think ahead.

But where's all that gonna go without the rink?  Where's everybody supposed to go?

What about the 60-year old skate sharpener who keeps his job for the love of the game?  What about the PeeWee who doesn't have a home?  Where do they go?

They go with the rink.  You'll never see them again.  They become memories, ghosts of the rink.  They are lost.  They dwell in the same place as the memories of the countless attempts of the "Michigan goal", jumping into the wall to celebrate, hits that send you off crying, broken sticks, cherry-picking in the slot, rebound goals, overtimes, shoot-outs, jumping, screaming, celebrating, crying, and championships.

They are lost.

And they'll never come back.

And that's hockey's final lesson, the only one it doesn't teach you to deal with.

Heartbreak.

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