The NHL’s Stadium Series is set for back-to-back outdoor hockey games at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, on Feb. 17 and 18.
However, MetLife Stadium and the upcoming game on Feb. 18 between the New York Rangers and New York Islanders is not the only outdoor event making waves for hockey fans in the region.
The Park at UBS Arena in Elmont, New York, opened this past December and the Islanders and its partners have plenty of events planned for the two outdoor hockey rinks at the 155,800-square foot facility.
“Leaning into the concept of outdoor hockey and the origins of the sport, we wanted to figure out how we could bring that to our fan base and further enhance the campus of Belmont Park,” said Nick Pizzutello, the Islanders executive vice president. “With the outdoor game this year, and the huge footprint outside of UBS Arena, it gave us a platform to bring this to life.”
The facility features two rinks, the Northwell Pond and the UBS Pond.
The Northwell Pond is a sheet of natural ice, and it hosts a series of four-on-four pond hockey tournaments that cater to youth and adult divisions at different competitive levels. The UBS Pond is more for developmental purposes, as it hosts Learn to Skate, Learn to Play and Try Hockey for Free programs. The aim is to grow the sport by making it accessible to any age group or skill level.
“We’re growing the game across Long Island, Brooklyn, Queens, Connecticut and the surrounding areas,” said Jocelyne Cummings, the Islanders director of amateur hockey. “We have two great sheets of ice and we’re able to offer all of these great classes for people who are right down the street. We can bring hockey to everyone around the neighborhood of where the UBS Arena is at.”
Dan Craig is overseeing the Islanders’ new ponds. It’s a role that’s well-suited for him, as he was the NHL facilities operations manager for 23 years and has been in charge of the ice for more than 30 NHL outdoor games.
The UBS Pond is constructed with synthetic technology that is created by Global Synthetic Ice, an alternative to real ice which allows the skate blade to smoothly glide over the surface and ensure season-long accessibility through the warmer months. The Northwell Pond real ice surface will be used through late February and early March, depending on the weather.
“Pond hockey was the impetus of the idea,” Pizzutello said. “When we started kicking it around with our partners at UBS and Northwell, it became very clear that the community rink was going to be the backbone and we wanted to lean into both. It was almost like we couldn’t do one without the other, especially with a place as large as Belmont Park.”
The Park offers Islanders fans a special game day experience, as a pregame show is broadcast live from the facility during home games, while the team also hosts watch parties for select road games.
There’s also an area away from the rinks adorned with lights, fire pits and lawn games where fans can warm up with hot chocolate and other beverages. The facility also includes a VIP Igloo Garden, which features six 12-foot wide heated and furnished igloos, food trucks, a team merchandise store and an area where fans can play vintage carnival games for prizes.
“It’s a little more of a pregame party atmosphere because on game night we have a huge captive audience with thousands of people showing up,” Pizzutello said. “For a couple hundred people at a time, skating becomes secondary on game night, but on other nights, we view it as a community platform for Learn to Skate and Learn to Play programs. Ice time is so precious in the metro New York area, so we’re trying to leverage as much as possible to get our community groups on the ice.”
Cummings said that almost 2,500 residents attended public skate sessions during the facility’s first month and the organization hosted multiple tournaments, jamborees and festivals, in addition to Learn to Skate and Learn to Play programs.
She added that there is gap in the local market, and the Islanders are excited to be able to fill it with the facility and two new ice surfaces.
“It’s huge, and it becomes relatable for kids when they realize that many of our pro athletes also played pond hockey,” Cummings concluded. “It gives us an opportunity for more skating, more hockey and a chance to show everyone what our great sport is all about.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Photos courtesy New York Islanders/Dennis DaSilva