Culver rink closing ending an era

News of the Culver City Ice Arena’s pending closing next month hit many of us who have played hockey at the facility over the years hard.

For all of its quirks (I once had a stick blade break off in the boards, which I  swear also swallowed up pucks from time to time), the rink is one of the few remaining links to the early days of hockey in Southern California.

Opened in 1962, it not only served as the LA Kings’ practice rink for many years, but it was part of GLAMHA (Greater Los Angeles Minor Hockey Association), a league that I write about in the upcoming hockey book, Palm Trees and Frozen Ponds. It surprises many to discover that organized youth hockey existed in the state more than 50 years ago, but it did. And though the community was small, it was strong and often thriving. It produced NHL players, college stars and even an Olympic hockey player.

CCIA also was home of the Marina City Sharks, among other youth hockey clubs, an organization that produced several hockey pros, including Anaheim Ducks draft pick Brian Salcido and Matt Ford.

And no one who has ever played there will forget its hockey shop owners, Hans and Barbara Matzel.

A former rink owner told me several years back that this day would come. Not specifically, but that in general single-sheet rinks couldn’t make in California because operating costs have gotten too high. Multi-sheet facilities would be the only way for the numbers to make sense. The San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks have partially proven that theory wrong by taking over operation — and in some cases outright owning — several single-sheet rinks and running them from a centralized office.

I can’t count the number of games of pickup hockey I’ve played at lunchtime at Culver City over the years. I don’t remember the games specifically, though I remember dreading walking up the creaky stairs to the locker room in my gear some times. What I cherish are the long-lasting friendships I’ve made there.

I realize there are other newer rinks with better amenities around, and those are enjoyable to play at. But they can’t replace 52 years of history. At its highest levels, the game is nothing without its history — ever hear of the Stanley Cup? That tie to the history of the game is one reason the Winter Classic and Heritage Classic outdoor games are so popular.

The NHL is bringing the outdoor hockey experience to Dodger Stadium in less than two weeks; it’s unfortunate that one of the region’s indoor rinks will be readying to lock its doors at the same time.

I don’t know if I speak for any other hockey players, but it feels as if part of me is about to be lost.

California’s first trip to Nationals

The nearly two dozen teams from California playing in the USA Hockey Nationals this week have arrived at their various sites and no doubt are resting up for Wednesday’s opening games.

But did you know California first sent a youth hockey team to Nationals (then the Amateur Hockey Association of the United States or AHAUS) in 1962? A Bantam team playing out of Van Nuys Iceland represented the state.

What’s notable was that the team included the late Ken Vogel, who would go on to play for Jack Riley (coach of the 1960 Squaw Valley gold-medal winners) at West Point; Brian Bird, who would go on to captain Yale; and Cary Adams, who founded the PCHA, the circuit for college club teams in the Western United States.

The team was an all-star team of Southern California Junior Ice Hockey League players from the San Fernando Valley (north of downtown Los Angeles). Participants came from rinks in Van Nuys, North Hollywood and Tarzana. The SCJIHL disbanded shortly thereafter with GLAMHA (Greater Los Angeles Minor Hockey Association) absorbing the clubs.

The team was coached by the late Ronnie Van Gompel.

It also surprises many to discover that by the late 60s the state was sending players to some of the top college hockey programs in the country, a topic I am tackling in depth in the hockey book.
So while we celebrate all the hard work of the boys and girls who are at Nationals this year, take a minute to consider this is the 50th anniversary of California participating in the event.

Thanks to Cary for this rare photo.

California's first youth hockey team to reach Nationals went much earlier than most might think -- 1962. The squad was coached by the late Ronnie Van Gompel (kneeling in front row).

New Year book update

I have a pile of California minor hockey news and stories to post, and I hope to do so in the next few days. But first I wanted to provide an update on the hockey book.

As some of you might be aware, for the past four years I’ve been researching and now writing a book about the history of hockey in California. During this process I’m continually learning more from the people I speak to, and so the direction of the book has changed from initially being one that solely examined the game’s growth here, to one that does that but points to key events, teams and people who were part of its emergence and growth along the way.

So while history is part of it, and there are nods to many of the state’s pro teams, it really focuses on how these events added more kindling to the “hockey fire”.

I’ve spoken to roughly 400 people associated with the game’s history from the late 1930s until now, and the words of many of them will appear in the book. Their stories — to me — are priceless.

At this point I’ve written or nearly written approximately 18 chapters. I hope to complete another 12-15 in the next 3-4 months. At that time, I’ll evaluate what I have (again) and submit it to an editor. As of yet, I do not have a publisher for it, but if it needs to be self-published, I’m preparing to do that.

As the Stanley Cup Playoffs commercial asks, “Is this the year?”

Happy New Year, and keep your head up and stick on the ice.

Book update

One of the reasons blog postings have been more scarce of late is I’ve had a bit more time to spend writing the book, and so I have.

Researching and writing the historical portion is far from an exact science because there really is no definitive authority the history of California hockey. I’m pulling information from books, records and dozens of interviews with players and coaches who have been involved in the game out here for the past 40-plus years.

Incidentally, one could make a case that this is the 50th year of youth hockey in California. GLAMHA (the old Greater Los Angeles Minor Hockey Association) was formed in 1959 from what I can tell.

Until next time,

Chris