Los Angeles Kings Reminisce About Their Days At Culver City Ice Arena
January 15, 2014 7 Comments
CULVER CITY ICE ARENA CLOSING: With the imminent, permanent closure of the historic Culver City Ice Arena looming just a couple of weeks from now, in a three-part series, Frozen Royalty takes a look back at the old barn that was the Los Angeles Kings’ first practice facility—it was their practice home for nearly thirty years.
LOS ANGELES — On February 2, Los Angeles’ Westside will lose an icon of the hockey and figure skating communities when the Culver City Ice Arena shuts its doors for the last time.
Owners of the property have leased it to Planet Granite, which has announced plans to open an indoor rock climbing, yoga and fitness center at the location.
Supporters of the ice rink have organized to try to save it, but with a lease already signed, and with the City of Culver City having no legal authority to void the lease, or the money to purchase the property via eminent domain, prospects look less than grim for saving the rink.
That dim, almost pitch black outlook is a big disappointment to the Los Angeles Kings family, as the Culver City Ice Arena was the team’s practice facility from their earliest days to the mid-1990’s, when they moved to Iceoplex in the San Fernando Valley.
“I always have fond memories of the Culver City rink,” said Kings radio color commentator Daryl Evans. “Even when I go back over the past few years to see youth teams play, you see some of the old pictures.”
“It’s unfortunate, because people talk about the Kings, going way back, and when you talk about youth hockey, Culver City had a lot to do with that, and for a lot of young kids,” added Evans, who played right wing for the Kings from 1981-85. “There’s history, and I think as we’re establishing hockey history here in the Los Angeles area, that’s part of it. That’s unfortunate and you hate to see it happen.”
As Evans alluded to, the demise of the Culver City Ice Arena will end 52 years of hockey and figure skating history on the Westside.
“I can picture it as being a building that brings back some very fond memories for a lot of people, and it is a landmark,” said Kings television color commentator Jim Fox. “Even now, I see the sign, driving by it—boom! It’s brings you right back.”
“I think it’s an historical site,” said retired head athletic trainer Pete Demers. “The treasured figurine on the roof of the figure skater with her dress on—I know that they were always so proud of that. That was the icon of the Culver ice rink.”
Although the Kings practiced at the Culver City Ice Arena for nearly thirty years, the facility had serious problems, including uneven ice, right from the start.
“The rink had been there for so long, there was a deep frost, and they didn’t thaw it out,” said Demers, who served as the team’s head athletic trainer for 34 seasons, retiring in 2006 after working 2,632 consecutive games for the Kings. “If a pipe broke, they’d cut the ice, dig down, find the problem, and fix it. They wouldn’t melt the [entire ice sheet].”
“The frost was so deep, it would come up and it was really difficult to get the ice perfectly level,” added Demers. “You’d go down in the corner, where the frost had lifted everything up, and the ice would be built up there. They’d shave it down, but the ice was still higher there.”
“It was a joke around the league. Everybody would talk about it. If you were having a scrimmage at Culver, and you were on the ‘A’ team, you’d be going downhill.”
There were also high points on the ice, and uneven boards.
“I remember going to numerous practices, and [former head coach] Don Perry trying to run the power play,” said Evans reminisced. “The puck seemed like it would be going flat, and then, all of a sudden, it would jump a couple of feet because it hit a mogul on the ice. The boards were uneven. But again, we probably moaned and groaned about it all the time, but we still found a way to get it done.”
“With the ice lifting, the boards would be irregular,” said Demers. “You’d shoot the puck around the boards and it would pop out. Then, you’d go along the edges, and it would be high along the edges. It would be uncomfortable for players to dig the puck out.”
In an October 2012 interview with Frozen Royalty, Fox, who played right wing for the Kings from 1980-90, and is ranked ninth on their all-time scoring list, pointed out that the Kings were at a disadvantage during their years in Culver City, in terms of reaching the ultimate goal of winning the Stanley Cup.
“I think there were some handicaps that this franchise had,” he said. “When I hear a current-day coach talk about travel, games and schedule being an issue, and Kings coaches have, over the years, even Terry Murray and Darryl Sutter—but go play a balanced schedule, where you’re playing two at home and two away [against each team in the league], travel [on commercial flights as opposed to charter flights], practice at Culver City, which is one of the worst facilities, and then try to win games.”
After learning of the Culver City Ice Arena’s apparent demise, Fox was asked to elaborate on the conditions at the Culver City rink.
“[The apparent closure is] disappointing, looking back now,” said Fox. “I’m not saying it would’ve made the Kings a Stanley Cup Champion, but it was not up to standard for an NHL team, bottom line. The ice conditions, the unevenness of the ice, the boards were so uneven that you couldn’t have any type of physicality in your practice, and you couldn’t use the boards to make a breakout pass. In one end zone, where the Zamboni entrance was, if you dumped the puck there, it would go underneath the boards and wouldn’t bounce back out.”
If that wasn’t bad enough, they also had to deal with exhaust fumes.
“Nowadays, the Zamboni’s have great emission controls,” Demers noted. “Back then, they would put out fumes that would gag you. But when you have to make ice, you have to make ice.”
“I remember [former Kings defenseman, four-time Stanley Cup winner, and honored member of the Hockey Hall of Fame] Larry Murphy came in one day and said, ‘I think I’m getting Black Lung disease.’ He said that he blew his nose, and black soot came out.”
“We talked about opening the doors, but that would let the warm air in,” Demers added. “That was a problem.”
“The problem wasn’t that it was an old Zamboni. Back then, they were Jeeps with a box on top to hold the snow. It was a ventilation issue.”
Fact is, the Culver City Ice Arena was always a “bare bones” rink.
“It was old in the first place,” Demers said, even though it was only ten years old when the Kings began practicing there. “It presented a lot of problems, and you have to give credit to the maintenance people who took care of the place because they had a challenge of dealing with old equipment.”
“They did magic, especially Raul Lopez,” Demers added. “He kept that place going for years and years and years. His son [also named Raul], is the ‘Zam Man’ (operates the Zamboni) at Staples Center. They had a love for that place. It was home, not only to us, but to all those figure skating instructors. Their pictures are up on the wall. That’s where they made their living. So many good figure skaters came out of that rink. It was well-known for that.”
Demers emphasized that the problems had nothing to do with the staff at the rink.
“I don’t like to say negative things about the condition of the rink because of how hard the people who took care of it worked, and how much pride they had,” he stressed. “But they only had so much to work with.”
“I’m sensitive to making complaints about our place because it was home to us,” he added. “I was happy to be there. We had wonderful times there. Everybody was doing all they could to maintain the place perfectly. It was always clean. But it was old. It was old in the first place. It was old when we walked in the door.”
“They did the best they could with what they had, and they worked really hard, too. That’s what makes it sad.”
Fox, Evans and Demers all have fond memories of the Culver City Ice Arena, even though practicing there was so tough.
“My fondest memory was the camaraderie we had in that small room, especially in my early years,” said Demers. “We had a lot of fun.”
“My fondest memory was in my first year [in the National Hockey League], getting there in the morning, before practice started,” Fox reminisced. “They had a little—it wasn’t a full restaurant, but it was an area where they served food. The lady there served us. She made us homemade eggs. She put cheese in it—sandwiches, stuff like that. Kind of like a breakfast sandwich, maybe before breakfast sandwiches were really popular. Just getting there, and you’re a young kid with nowhere to go—it felt so comfortable there to start your day.”
“It was my first experience with the NHL,” Fox added. “I didn’t know any different. It was fine. It was comfortable. It was the practice home of the Kings. I was glad to be a King, and when we were going through it, [the problems with the facility] never entered our minds. You go there, you practice, you work, you get your job done.”
After a 52-year tradition in Culver City, the source of those memories seems destined to disappear.
“When you look at the close proximity to the Forum, it was an easy place for people to get to,” Evans noted. “Close to the  freeway, and things like that. People enjoyed coming by, and the personnel that were there—Hans [Matzel] has been there—he was there before I was there. You have people like that who people identify with.”
“I assume that there have been a lot of families who grew up there, brought their kids there for youth hockey and figure skating, and Hans Matzel at the pro shop,” said Fox. “I’m sure there is a community of people, like any building that’s been there for such a long time, that it is a part of your life. What happens if you learned how to skate there? Something like that. That’s something that would always be special.”
“I just wish that someone, at some point, would’ve been able to keep it there, and improve it,” added Fox.
Demers shared similar sentiments.
“The Kings being there was important to the rink, but the youth hockey and kids figure skating was such a big part of the community, and still is,” he lamented. “That’s what saddens you when you think that it’s going to be closed for financial reasons. You wonder what life is about.”
“On the Westside, there’s not much going on, as far as hockey goes,” he added. “It’s going to be a big loss. There’s a lot of kids playing hockey now, and [those who play there] will have to go somewhere else. It’s going to hurt the community.”
“It’s too bad that something couldn’t be worked out—maybe it still can be—to keep the rink open. Not only is it good for the community, but it’s an historical site. It’s been there a long time. It’s sad that it can’t be kept for the community.
In Part 2 of this four-part series, Demers and Bob Halfacre, who has worked with the Kings equipment staff for many years, look back at what the Kings had to deal with in terms of dressing and training room facilities at the Culver City Ice Arena. Given the bare bones nature of the entire facility, and compared to what they have now at the state-of-the-art Toyota Sports Center, you might be shocked to learn about what they had to work with back then.
- Profit Was Not The Primary Goal For LA Kings’ Now-Dashed Plans For Culver City Ice Arena
- If Granted A Reprieve, What Should Happen At Culver City Ice Arena?
- From Youth Hockey To The LA Kings, Culver City Ice Arena’s Hans Matzel Has Seen It All
- Ice At Culver City Ice Arena Was Just Half Of The Story For The LA Kings
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