Home games put on ice, for now

At Play

Construction on rink used by Navy Youth Hockey league delays opening of arena

December 27, 2006|By JEFF SEIDEL | JEFF SEIDEL,Special to The Sun

Construction delays at the Naval Academy's new ice rink have had a chilling effect on its club team and the Navy Youth Hockey league, forcing them to scramble to find places in the Baltimore-Washington region to practice and play home games.

The $6 million Dr. John J. McMullen Hockey Arena was expected to be finished this fall, but Jason Boothe, Navy's assistant athletic director for operations, said that weather and "other factors" have beset the project. He declined to elaborate.

The opening date was pushed back to January, but last week he hesitated to say exactly when the Olympic-size rink on Greenbury Point, across the Severn River from the academy, will be ready.

"Believe me, we're not thrilled with the progress," Boothe said. "This wasn't for lack of effort."

Ice hockey isn't a varsity sport at the Naval Academy, but it has a club team that has practiced in the rink at Dahlgren Hall. That 1908 building is being used as a dining hall while King Hall undergoes a renovation.

This season, the club team opened with 15 consecutive away games, ending Dec. 1. Until Feb. 3, its home games are being played at Tucker Road and Wells ice rinks in Prince George's County and Piney Orchard Ice Rink. The rest of its home games are scheduled at the new rink.

Navy Youth Hockey, made up of 11 travel and recreation teams for children ages 5 to 18, also had planned to play its latter games this season at the new rink. Now the coaches are rushing to find other game and practice sites.

"It made sense for them to seek ice elsewhere [this season] to be assured of ice time because we couldn't be assured of a specific date," Boothe said. "It's certainly not how we like to operate."

Organizers have since found at least seven places to play home games this season: Tucker Road and Wells ice rinks, and Fort Dupont Ice Arena in Washington, D.C., as well as the Washington Capitals' new practice facility in Ballston, Va., its old practice rink in Piney Orchard, the Gardens Ice House in Laurel, Patterson Park in Baltimore City, and possibly other places.

Times and sites for practices are listed on the program's Web site, navyyouthhockey.org. Boothe said he's in constant communication with the program, and that the Naval Academy was not thrilled about what happened.

"We're juggling it now to finish the season on the road," said Navy Youth Hockey President Bryan Teague. "We decided a few weeks ago to give it up for the home games for this season."

The rink is named for McMullen, a 1940 academy graduate who served in the Navy for 15 years before starting John J. McMullen and Associates, which became a renowned naval architectural firm.

He is the former owner of the Houston Astros baseball team and the New Jersey Devils hockey team.

When completed, the rink will form the first half of the Brigade Sports Complex. Six indoor tennis courts will be built there at a cost of $6 million.

"It's going to be a beautiful facility for these kids when it's done," Boothe said. "It's going to be magnificent."

Eddie Slusher, the hockey director at Ice World in Harford County, said a situation like this affects parents as well as the children playing.

"It's asking a lot of the parents and kids to make the extra travel," Slusher said. "It would be like playing an 82-game NHL season all on the road."

But Brian Sheehy, a coach for the Navy Bantam travel team, said all the teams are making the best of it. Parents on his team have organized car pools to take some of the driving pressure off and get children to the rinks.

Sheehy said it's reminiscent of his childhood in Pittsburgh playing at faraway rinks and why he's not bothered by it. He said the kids are happy to get out on the ice on a regular basis.

"The little bit of sacrifice we've had to go through this year is going to be worth it to have a brand-new facility when the doors open," Sheehy said. "They just want to play."

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