As November rapidly hurtles toward December, the National Hockey League is still embroiled in a bitter lockout that has so far robbed Flyers fans of their beloved team’s season.
And while a dark cloud of uncertainty continues to hang over the chances of a 2012-13 Flyers campaign, hockey was very much in the air last Friday evening in Oxford Circle.
Flyers founder and Comcast chairman Ed Snider was in the building, along with other current members of the organization, including general manager Paul Holmgren and Jim Jackson, the “Voice of the Flyers.” Heck, even Lauren Hart showed up to sing God Bless America.
No, the NHL season hadn’t covertly begun, even if this special event at the Tarken Ice Rink gave the hockey fans in attendance hope to see their beloved Orange & Black take the ice soon.
When asked later if hockey would happen this season, Snider replied, “I sure hope so, but I’m not here to talk about that. I’m awfully disappointed we’re not playing, but there’s not a thing I can do about it.”
Rather, this day was about the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation and its 3,000-plus members, some of whom were on hand for the grand reopening and complete refurbishment and reconstruction of Tarken (6250 Frontenac St.). The event acted as a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the partnership between Snider’s foundation and the city of Philadelphia, a partnership that not only saved Tarken and three other city rinks from shutting down, but now keeps them open and fully operational year-round.
Though the lights were dimmed inside the frigid rink, there was no doubt about Tarken’s complete facelift, turning a once open-aired, seasonal facility to a fully-enclosed, state-of-the-art venue that will offer instruction to inner-city youths, both on the ice and in the classroom. And even better, there will be more open-skating hours for both children and adults who love to skate and miss their Flyers.
“Welcome to my new home,” gushed Tracy Robinson, an eighth-grader at nearby Carnell School who acted as co-master of ceremonies along with Jackson.
In addition to Snider, Holmgren and Jackson, there were several other big names in the building, including Flyers alumni (Gary Dornhoefer, Joe Watson and Joe Kadlec) and city officials. Mayor Michael Nutter arrived late but still marveled at the turnout.
“There are a lot of people in here,” the mayor said. “And I’m not sure we’d be in this moment without Ed Snider. He knows how to dream big.”
Snider, who brought the Flyers to Philadelphia in 1965, has been a successful businessman and hockey owner for a long time. He has amassed a fortune cultivating hockey culture in a blue-collar town that identifies with the sport’s rugged players. As Jackson said, “Anyone that’s ever spent one minute with Ed knows his passion for the Orange & Black.”
But his other passion developed in 2005 with the founding of his youth hockey foundation, determined to teach underprivileged kids skills on and off the ice. The foundation’s mission, as Snider told it, is to “build lives and unite communities.”
“This has become a big part of my life, and I want it to be my legacy,” the 79-year-old Snider said as a free public skating session began behind him. “The Philadelphia Flyers are my business, and that’s something I’m very proud of. But this is something entirely different, and it has nothing to do with my profession and everything to do with my desire to help inner-city kids.”
And he’s done just that. Tarken was the last of the four fully refurbished rinks to reopen, joining Sims Skatehouse in West Philadelphia (reopened last November), Scanlon Ice Rink in Kensington (also last November) and the Simons Rink in West Oak Lane (last December). In addition to the top-notch hockey facilities, all four rinks also include newly constructed classrooms and learning labs, as well as an After School program designed to keep kids on track to graduate on time.
“This is about those critical and dangerous after-school hours,” Nutter said. “The most dangerous time of day for a young person in America is between 3 and 7 p.m., and with this facility being used year-round offering more skating, equipment and instruction, it will be very positive and beneficial with virtually no cost. It’s a great model going forward and should be replicated across the country in all sports.”
It is estimated that the rinks “will now provide over 35,000 hours of quality year-round after school programming for the boys and girls of these inner-city neighborhoods,” according to an event press release.
And it wasn’t just the kids eager to hit the ice who were excited by the drastic Tarken improvements.
“Isn’t this place fabulous?” Deputy Mayor Mike DiBerardinis asked. “It’s wonderful. Today, Tarken moves up to a new level.”
“This is a great place to be … isn’t it lovely?” echoed City Councilwoman Marian Tasco (D-9th dist.), whose district includes both the Tarken and Simons rinks. “Thank you, Ed Snider, for your love of young people, and for having it in your heart to give back.”
With so much bitterness and disappointment surrounding the NHL during the lockout, Snider needed to see and be reminded of the joy hockey has brought to so many people since he brought the sport to Philadelphia five decades ago.
“This is what it’s all about, and it means a tremendous amount to me,” Snider said. “I get such satisfaction hearing from kids and parents about how much they’ve accomplished being a part of these rinks. If one day one of these kids becomes an NHL player, then that will just be icing on the cake.
“I can’t think of a way I’d be more satisfied, except for maybe bringing another [Stanley] Cup to Philly.”
Just playing a game would suffice, but on this day, it was at least a start. ••
Sports editor Ed Morrone can be reached at 215-354-3035 or firstname.lastname@example.org