Every athlete of organized team sports in Newtown can stay here in town to practice and compete — every one except for hockey players. The youth skaters hit the ice in surrounding towns, including Danbury, and Newtown High School’s hockey team’s “home” ice is at Danbury Ice Arena.
That’s not a big deal. I grew up in Fairfield and traveled to Milford, Bridgeport, and Darien for “home” practices — some at 5 something in the morning or 10 something at night — and games. Not every town is afforded the luxury of having its very own rink.
But wouldn’t it be nice for players, coaches, and fans alike here in Newtown to be able to simply go over to Fairfield Hills for a game? This would do much more than just create ever-important convenience (and that’s not to be overlooked). It would give the high school hockey team an in-town feeder program. High school players come from a variety of travel and house leagues in different towns. Take a look at towns with rinks and it is no coincidence that a majority of them are very strong Division I squads: Hamden, West Haven, Darien.
Newtown High’s hockey team has experienced tremendous success at the Division III level, capturing the program’s first state title and, maybe in time — and with a rink in town — the Nighthawks will raise a Division II or I banner.
Paul Esposito, coach of the Nighthawks, notes that the way to build a successful program is to get commitment from players to stay here and not play club or private school hockey. Both club and private school hockey are desirable choices for talented players whose families are in position to send them out of town to play. Hometown hockey may become equally as tempting with a rink in the backyard and the trickle up effect of the high school team’s level of ability increasing as it taps a single youth feeder program.
“There’s definitely a need for it — that’s for sure,” Esposito said.
Money is a big issue. Esposito, who has met with town officials and proposed a rink for Fairfield Hills, knows the most significant hurdle to overcome is upfront funding.
This is far from my area of expertise, but I can confidently say I think it’s a good idea for somebody with deep pockets to get involved. A rink is a revenue-generating product. If it’s not, then why did Norwalk recently build a new one? Why did Wonderland of Ice in Bridgeport add a second sheet of ice to its venue — and curling lanes too? In the past decade-plus, the sport of hockey at the youth and high school levels has taken off. There are high school girls’ teams throughout the state, and new rinks have popped up in a variety of cities and towns.
It’s not all about hockey, either. There’s figure and speed skating, and curling. Not to mention good old recreational public skating. Drop your children off to skate on a Friday night (even in the summer!) or organize a skating birthday party. Introduce your children to figure skating or curling.
It’s not just about children and student athletes. A hockey rink in town can benefit a variety of ages. I play in a hockey league that has different tiers for experienced players and less competitive adults who are new to the sport. Yes, hockey is a sport you can pick up after watching your children play. There are many parents, moms included, who do it.
Esposito is on to something here. He’s been committed to Newtown hockey for the last decade and seems focused on making it even better. I say strike while the iron’s hot. Somebody help out, and get this rink in place. It’s sure to be a hit.
See you on the ice!