High school hockey teams displaced, rallying for rinks at the Gardens to stay open through season

The Gardens is home rink for six hockey teams

CINCINNATI -- Four local high school hockey teams will be displaced if the sale of The Cincinnati Gardens to The Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority goes through. The grim circumstances have turned fierce competitors into allies for the sake of salvaging the upcoming season.

The Port Authority approved a contract to acquire the property June 15, with plans to level the historic sports and entertainment venue to make way for manufacturing.

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While the Gardens no longer hosts concerts, boxing, basketball or Cincinnati Cyclones games, it is the home rink for La Salle, St. Xavier, Elder and Moeller high schools' hockey teams. Xavier University and the Cincinnati Thunder hockey teams both operate out of the Gardens.

The teams practice at the Gardens and host games on the main ice, formerly the Cyclones and Cincinnati Mighty Ducks' arena rink.

St. Xavier High School hockey coach Kevin Taylor said the four high schools plan to offer to pay all operating costs to keep the rink open through the upcoming hockey season while simultaneously finding a new home rink for the following season.

"We're looking at things from the standpoint of working collaboratively with the port authority," Taylor said. "(The Port Authority) has been easy to work with so far. We're just hoping that they will step up and be good stewards of the community."

The possibility of being kicked out of the home rink could damage the future of hockey in Greater Cincinnati, Taylor said.

"The elimination of the main ice and the annex at the Gardens eliminates 40 percent of the usable ice in Cincinnati," Taylor said. "Without the addition of a new rink, that will be detrimental to hockey in Cincinnati."

There are three other rinks within an hour from the city -- Northland Ice Center, Indian Hill Winter Club and Sportsplus.

Sportsplus in Sharonville has two rinks and available ice time beginning at 5 a.m. on school days. The rink is also home to Sycamore high school's hockey team and hosts amateur games and practices, skating and hockey clinics and figure skating events.

Northland Ice Center in Evendale has availability from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. on school days, Taylor said. The Northland Ice is NHL regulation size, but Taylor said he thought it would be too small of a space to host high school games. 

Indian Hill Winter Club is a private rink that hosts private skate time, lessons and is home to Indian Hill hockey clubs and teams. Taylor said Indian Hill is nearly at full capacity for reserved ice time, and anyone who uses the ice has to be a member of the winter club.

Northern Kentucky Ice Center is closed until Labor Day, according to the building owner, while undergoing biennial building and ice maintenance. After opening, however, the rink will have no weekday practice time availability for the displaced teams.

The Kettering Ice Arena is closed for the season until Aug. 29. A study completed in February reveals the general public was split on the question about whether or not to retain or repurpose the ice arena (53 percent for repurposing and 47 percent for retaining the ice arena), but it also claims "it would be in the city’s best interest to make improvements to the ice arena rather than repurposing the facility for other uses."

The next closest rinks are Goggin Ice Center on Miami University's campus, South Metro Ice in Centerville and Hobart Arena in Troy, Ohio.

A shortage of time and open rinks means the teams -- who compete against one another for conference and state titles -- may have to practice fewer days each week and/or share the rinks during practice time.

"We all agreed that, if the time comes, and we do need to book ice at Sportsplus or Northlands for the 2016-17 season, we must co-operate and compromise on ice times. This would mean early morning practices and only one or two practices per team," Taylor wrote in an email to St. Xavier hockey player and parents. "Doing so will be the only way to keep all our teams afloat for the season. Being selfish and grabbing all the ice times will reap very short term rewards but will ultimately result in the decimation of hockey in the Cincinnati area due to teams having to fold or relocate. That outcome doesn't do anyone any good."

Taylor said he and the other GCL high school hockey coaches agreed to hold off on booking ice time for the upcoming hockey season until the Robinson family formally accepts the Port Authority's offer.

After that, Taylor said the high school teams plan to ask the Port Authority to keep the Gardens ice rinks intact through March so that the teams can prepare a plan to relocate the following season.

Long-term, the teams are pushing for the construction of a new hockey rink.

"We have to start working on that now," Taylor said of the possibility of a new rink. "People say 'Well, you can just move the team.' But there isn't enough ice time or space for that to happen. That could force the Thunder to leave for a new city -- which they don't want to do -- or force the high school teams to disband."

Taylor said some St. Xavier parents and alumni are working to find investors and supporters for a possible new rink.

"We need to be part of the long-term solution," Taylor said. "Angel investors or anyone who wants to step up and help work on getting another rink built -- we would love you to be involved."

An earlier version of this story said Northern Kentucky Ice Arena was closed due to fire code violations; however, the building is closed for summer maintenance, according to the building owner. The building's last fire inspection called for a replaced light bulb, which has since been corrected.

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