Greenwich Skating Club looks to a bright future
GREENWICH — It’s where future pro hockey players and Olympians first laced up, and where countless others happily glided across chilly afternoons on a sheet of ice in central Greenwich.
Now, the Greenwich Skating Club, founded in 1954, has skated into the 21st century. With a multi-million-dollar reconstruction of its rink and clubhouse on Cardinal Road, it is looking to become a greater focal point for the community.
“Many people don’t even know the rink exists,” said General Manager Brent Brower. “We’re trying to open ourselves up to the public more, and get people involved in our club. It’s a great place.”
A number of top athletes have been developed there. Cam Atkinson, a right winger for the Columbus Blue Jackets, who recently earned All-Star honors in the National Hockey League, laced up his skates as a “Squirt” at the club. His father was a coach.
Helen Resor, who played hockey for Yale and won the Bronze medal with the U.S. women’s Olympic team in 2006, has also been a coach at the club. It has incubated talent for the National Women’s Hockey League, such as Bray Ketchum, another Yalie now playing for the New York Riveters, and Shannon Doyle of the CT Whale — also a coach for the club.
Leaders are aiming to build on that success. “We’ve really built out the girls hockey program in the last seven or eight years, and that has grown tremendously. We’re looking to continue to energize that,” said club president Don Raftery.
“It truly is a family-oriented club, with a goal of being a place where people can come to gather and enjoy outdoor sports in the winter,” Raftery said. “That’s been the premises of the club from the beginning, and we’ve tried to continue that tradition.”
The club has increased community outreach, holding a free event for younger girls last month, in addition to free events for local pre-schools.
“We just keep reaching out to different groups. Our goal is to involve as many people as we can in the joys of skating, and to get them hooked early,” said Brower. “Many people say we’re a hidden little gem.”
One goal is to draw skaters from every income level in town. “Greenwich Skating Club is not meant to be something fancy or ostentatious. It’s family-oriented and inviting,” noted Raftery.
The new facility, completed in November, boasts a number of upgrades. The new lighting system is more energy-efficient and does not cast as much as light onto the surrounding residential area. The sound system, likewise, is less obtrusive. The upstairs lounge has wood paneling that channels an Alpine theme, and there are good viewing positions on two adjoining balconies to watch action on the ice.
“It’s a really nice place to watch a game,” says Brower. “The old clubhouse had nostalgia, but it was out of date. This is really state of the art, and people are really happy with it.”
Becky Gutman, a Greenwich mom whose kids skate there, gave her vote of approval on a recent afternoon. “It looks amazing, and they were so thoughtful of what they put in. They thought of everything,” she said.
The club has been planning the upgrades for years, and it initiated a capital campaign and fund-raising drive to create the new facility. Patriot Bank, headquartered in Greenwich, generated a $3.1 million loan. Will Farriss, who grew up skating at the rink, is a lending officer at the bank. He said he wished every project the bank worked with achieved the same results.
“They indicated it would be on a fast track — and they exceeded that. I’ve never seen a project, that had such great results, take place so quickly. And under-budget and on-time,” said Farriss.
With its new facility, it’s not a hard sell to attract new skaters.
“There’s something special about playing outdoors, particularly under the lights. The outdoor fire place, sharing that camaraderie with friends, skating,” said Raftery.”There’s something magical about the place.”