Tarken Ice Rink reopens amidst grand fanfare

Wide open: Mem­bers of the pub­lic joined stu­dents of the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Found­a­tion for an open skate at the re­opened Tarken Ice Rink. MARIA POUCH­NIKOVA / TIMES PHO­TOS

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 em­or­rone@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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