By Stefan Kubus –
DETROIT – The National Hockey League, Detroit Red Wings Foundation and members of the Red Wings team were on-hand Monday afternoon at Clark Park in Detroit to unveil the facelift that the park’s ice rink received as part of the 2014 NHL Winter Classic Legacy Initiative.
The park received some much-needed upgrades, but also received a lot of additional supplies in order to make it a top-notch place for kids to skate: a Zamboni to clean the ice, lighting upgrades, snow removal equipment, an upgraded refrigeration system, new bicycle racks and a completely new ice surface.
“These donations today stabilize a really important investment in this community,” said Steve Tobocman, Clark Park Coalition President. “This is the town center for southwest Detroit. This is where, in the suburbs, families are with their kids in the winter, kids are after school on the weekends. This often is the only connection that kids have from getting off the streets.”
Clark Park provides year-round sports programming for more than 1,200 youth and operates the only regulation-sized outdoor hockey rink in metro-Detroit.
NHL Chief Marketing Officer Brian Jennings said with the park’s strong programming for the underprivileged youth, it was a no-brainer for the league to get behind this project.
“It’s a great privilege and honor to be out here today,” Jennings said. “It’s great to see the kids out on the ice. Only in a city called ‘Hockeytown’ could you have a great event like this. On behalf of the National Hockey League, I want to thank the city of Detroit, the Detroit Red Wings and the Clark Park Coalition for hosting us today.”
President and CEO of Illitch Holdings Christopher Illitch said there was no better place in the hockey community to provide such a spirited facelift for the underprivileged youth in the area.
“This is very fitting. This is right where hockey started, right here, outdoor hockey, you’ve got to love it.
“These improvements announced today are truly amazing for this gem, here, Clark Park, that we have just couple miles from the Red Wings’ home ice.”
A big, underlying part of the Winter Classic and Hockeytown Winter Festival is the promotion of youth hockey in the sense of kids getting exposed to the game. Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock said he truly believes there’s a strong chance for youth hockey to “really grow” in the area with this outdoor rink at the center of it all.
“You see smiles and opportunity,” said Babcock. “I’m a big believer with my own kids, their opportunity to be involved with this sport has been fantastic but the relationships they develop, the ups and downs you push yourself through, I think it’s great for everyone to be involved, so to have a facility like this that actually works now is great.”
With the top-notch upgrades installed, it’s much more like an NHL rink now, which Babcock said allows he and his team to return on much shorter notice for clinics and the such. Previously, Babcock wanted to return to the rink with his team, but was weary of his players getting injured with the poor ice conditions and no great means to mend them. In fact, the team had to bring their own Zamboni over with them from Joe Louis Arena when they participated in a clinic last year.
In addition to the unveiling of the renovations, Jimmy Howard, Niklas Kronwall and Danny DeKeyser of the Red Wings were out to assist with a USA Hockey youth clinic for kids to learn the game.
“What went on here was pretty great, a bunch of kids who had smiles on their faces,” DeKeyser said. “It’s what we love to see, so anytime we can support the community or do something like this, it makes us feel good.”
DeKeyser, a Western Michigan alum, grew up not too far from Detroit, in Clay Township.
“I’ve played around here my whole life and been here, so I kind of know what some of the people here have been through. It gives the kids a great spot to come on the weekends or after school, hang out, play some hockey and hopefully grow up into something bigger than that.”
Howard said that, with the community supporting the team so much, it was great for he and his teammates to return the favor on Monday, especially in such a way that hits home for him.
“It was really special when you get to go out there and skate on that rink. It’s one of the fondest memories that I have playing with my buddies.”