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 three-headed AHL Monster

This is a follow-up to my post earlier this week on Californians who have made the most of their NHL call-ups. That wasn’t a comprehensive list, only a few of the notables. Several others have played NHL games this season, and even more are thriving in the American Hockey League this season.

Let’s take a closer look at three more players with California ties who are playing for the Lake Erie Monsters, the top farm team of the Colorado Avalanche, this season.

Defenseman Raymond Macias of Long Beach had 13 points through 38 games, and he has battled through a few injuries. Ray played six games for the Avs at the end of the 2008-09 season. He’s a steady two-way defenseman, and with the Avalanche rebuilding, perhaps he will get another shot. Ray also might be one of the few players whose mother is more well-known in California hockey circles than he is. Helen Alex is a longtime team manager for the LA Jr. Kings, and has had a huge impact on hundreds of players’ careers through her caring ways.

Rookie Mark Olver spent a season with the California Wave, and teamed with, among others, Huntington Beach’s Rhett Rakhshani, to help the 88 birth year win a Bantam AAA national title in 2003. Through 58 games, the forward led the team in goals with 23 and had 40 points.

The third Monster has what I consider one of the more compelling stories of a pro from California.

Forward Matt Ford of West Hills has worked his way into a steady gig in the AHL and has 32 points, including 20 goals, through 63 games. That’s good, but how he got there is the impressive part to me.

Matt — whose father still can be found tending goal at rinks throughout Southern California — and his good buddy Brian Salcido , a one-time Ducks prospect, attended Shattuck-St. Mary’s Prep in Minnesota, where they won a national title with a guy named Crosby on their team (as well as a King named Jack Johnson and a Sabre named Drew Stafford).

Matt then won a national championship in 2006 with the Wisconsin Badgers (which as a native Cheesehead I need to personally thank him for). In between he was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks and never really given a look. He pressed on and stayed in school all four years (by the way, that’s a great idea kids).

Matt started his pro career with the Charlotte Checkers of the ECHL and played well enough to win All-Star Game MVP honors in 2009. He had a couple of cups of coffee with the AHL’s Hartford Wolfpack (a NY Rangers farm team) and a warmer with the Monsters later that season.

He got a camp invite from the Vancouver Canucks that summer, but found himself back in Charlotte however briefly before sticking with the Monsters last season, when he put up 27 points in 43 games.

His 20 goals this season are two off his pro high (21 of which were scored in the ECHL) in 2008-09. Matt is a study in perseverance and hard work, and he’s just one call away from the NHL.

California’s All-Stars

One update I would be remiss in delaying any further is about the various All-Stars and Olympians with ties to the state of California.

This week, a Californian was selected to start in the ECHL’s All-Star Game, which will be held in the beautiful new arena in Ontario. He is defenseman Zach Tarkir of Fresno. Ironically, he’s done so well this season that he’s been called up to Lake Erie of the AHL. There he is a teammate of Matt Ford of West Hills, who was the MVP of last season’s ECHL All-Star Game, and Ray Macias of Long Beach. Ray made his NHL debut with the Colorado Avalanche last season.

And Pasadena’s Brett Sterling was selected to his third AHL All-Star Game in four seasons. The Chicago Wolves wing is back to his high-scoring ways this season. And he also has been an All-Star MVP as well as the AHL’s Rookie of the Year in 2007.

These are no small feats!

Congratulations to Zach and Brett!

Matt Ford is ECHL All-Star Game MVP

Congratulations to West Hills’ Matt Ford on being selected the MVP of the ECHL All-Star Game on Wednesday night after burying three goals and picking up an assist.

Ford, who recently earned his second call-up of the season to Hartford of the AHL, has been a big-time goal-scorer at the ECHL level, getting 16 in 21 games to go with his 15 assists.

Ford’s path through hockey included playing youth hockey in Southern California, prep school hockey at Shattuck St. Mary’s in Minnesota and college hockey at Wisconsin, where he was a member of the Badgers’ 2006 National Championship team. A 2004 draft pick of the Chicago Blackhawks, Ford and Anaheim Ducks prospect Brian Salcido played youth hockey together and also played three seasons together at Shattuck.

California alumni updates and catching up with John Blue

What ever happened to … goaltender John Blue?

The former U.S. Olympic and Boston Bruins netminder now pastors a church in Irvine, and he took some time out to talk with me recently for both the book and CaliRubber.com. Excerpts of the interview include how a California guy landed at the University of Minnesota, how he made the Olympic team and which NHL stars of the 90s were the toughest opponents.

This week’s alumni report salutes the numerous players from California who are participating in their pro and junior leagues’ all-star games. The list includes Tim Kraus and Matt Ford in the ECHL, Kyle Bigos in the BCHL, Max Nicastro, Jake Newton and Brandon Richardson in the USHL, and a dozen players who participated in the NAHL’s Top Prospects Tournament.

California hockey alumni updates

This week my Alumni Report on www.calirubber.com focuses on California-trained hockey players in the NCAA Division I and Division III ranks.

Several men and women are leading their teams in scoring, and a few are among the NCAA leaders.

In the Division I women’s game, Northeastern sophomore F Kristi Kehoe (Bakersfield) and Providence freshman F Laura Veharanta (La Verne) lead their respective teams in scoring, and freshman F Paula Romanchuk (San Jose) tops Princeton in goals.

In the Division I men’s game, sophomore F Jason Krispel (Cypress) of Connecticut, freshman F Nielsson Arcibal (Vista) of American International lead their teams in scoring, and junior F Rhett Rakhshani (Huntington Beach) of Denver, junior F Ryan Lasch (Lake Forest) of St. Cloud State and freshman F Casey Wellman (Brentwood) of Massachusetts are second on their teams in scoring.

It also was a big week for pros from California.

Bobby Ryan of the Anaheim Ducks had a five-goal week and was recognized as the NHL’s Second Star of the Week. Forwards Matt Ford of the Charlotte Checkers and Tim Kraus of the Ontario Reign were selected to the ECHL All-Star Game.

Click here for the full report

California hockey alumni updates

This week’s Alumni Report is posted at www.calirubber.com.

Among the highlights:
Manhattan Beach’s Shane McColgan scores the winning goal in his second WHL game for Kelowna. Not bad for a player who is not yet old enough to drive.

West Hills’ Matt Ford continues to score at way better than a point-per-game clip for Charlotte in the ECHL.

Anaheim’s Brett Mohler had a five points in two BCHL games for Alberni Valley.

And Palos Verdes’ Richard Park had four points (two and two) in a two-game stretch for the New York Islanders.

California hockey alumni report

My latest alumni report on California hockey players is posted on www.calirubber.com

Click here to go right to the story.

Among the highlights:

California players – particularly Vancouver defenseman Jonathon Blum and Kelowna center Colin Long – continue to dominate in the WHL. And those two and others, such as Spokane’s Mitch Wahl, Kamloops’ CJ Stretch and Everett’s Shane Harper, have some company. Rookie Tyler Maxwell is scoring at almost a point-per-game clip.

Bobby Ryan’s return to the NHL has been very solid, and read how Richard Park helped sink the Canadiens.

Matt Ford got his first AHL goal last week.

All this and more … in one place!

California hockey alumni report

Some highlights from this week’s California hockey alumni report that I write each week on www.calirubber.com include:

The influx of California players to the AHL. This includes Brett Sterling, Ray Macias and Matt Ford.

CJ Stretch has been named the WHL’s Player of the Week.

Brandon Richardson has been named the USHL’s Offensive Player of the Week.

Click here for more on what California hockey players were up to around North America last week!