NORWALK, Conn. — Hockey players, figure skaters, city officials and the governor gathered to officially open the Rinks at Veterans Park for the season Thursday night with a ribbon cutting on the ice of the North Rink.
The two outdoor rinks are covered by a large tent and will be open throughout the winter.
Putting the facility in place on the sports fields took three weeks, said Ryan Hughes, general manager of SoNo Ice House and driving force of the Rinks at Veterans Park. And the ice is already filling up.
"The demand for ice is high," Hughes said before the ceremony. "These additional rinks allow hockey teams to practice after school. Ice time is selling out."
Public skate sessions are also on the schedule — and Norwalk residents get a discount.
The official opening ceremony began with a skating performance by four girls from the Learn To Skate program. Their patriotic routines were performed to "God Bless America" and "Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy From Company B."
Hughes pointed out the members of the Oilers Hockey Club in attendance. Also attending was retired NY Rangers' defenseman Ron Greschner. The Rangers have been supportive of hockey in Southern Connecticut, in particular with the Rangers Assist program that helps make hockey available to kids whose families may not be otherwise able to afford it.
Mayor Harry Rilling spoke about the efforts of the Ice House people to make the outdoor rinks a reality.
"Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine something so, so magnificent," Rilling said of the tented rinks, which have locker rooms and concessions on the premises.
He said the rink will boost the local economy, attracting people to skate, and then "grab a bite to eat at Donovan's or another of our nearby restaurants."
Each Norwalk school child will receive a pass for a free skating session and skate rental this year, Rilling said before turning the podium over to Gov. Dannel Malloy.
"Ryan Hughes is a good friend," Malloy said, describing the small world of hockey. "Ryan's first coach was my brother, Bill."
Malloy recalled being in Norwalk for the ribbon cutting for the Ice House rinks in 2012. "You've been wildly successful since then, right? I take full credit for that," Malloy said directly to Hughes.
Malloy pointed out to his own family's long history in hockey, with his three sons playing as well as his nieces and nephews.
"It's a great sport," he said.
Hughes returned to the podium after the governor's remarks, to thank the many people who had a hand in making the sheets of ice at Veterans Park a reality.
"We don't play politics here, we play hockey," Hughes said, describing the rinks as a vibrant family destination. They are expected to draw 400,000 people to South Norwalk, to the eat in restaurants, visit the shops, and stay in the area.
Hughes also explained the value of the student skate passes. A total of "11,000 students in 19 schools will receive free passes. That's a $1.3 million benefit to families," he said.
Of the many people Hughes thanked, the cutest person was perhaps his own infant son, who attended the ribbon cutting with Hughes' wife and parents. But the mention for the hardest-working individual Hughes gave to Rich Palmer.
"He was here day and night, to get two sheets in, the tent up and locker rooms in place in three weeks," Hughes said. "He is the hardest-working person I know."
After Hughes' remarks, he joined the mayor and the governor for the ribbon cutting in front of the podium.
For information on skating sessions at Veterans Park, click here.
For more information on SoNo Ice House, click here.
For more about Hockey In Norwalk, Inc., click here.
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