Ice At Culver City Ice Arena Was Just Half Of The Story For The LA Kings

CULVER CITY ICE ARENA CLOSING: In Part 1 of what is now a four-part series on the Culver City Ice Arena, and the years that the Los Angeles Kings called it their practice home, Frozen Royalty examined the infamous ice conditions, and how they impacted the team, along with the thoughts of three former Kings, who bemoaned the imminent demise of the facility. Part 2 looks at the other half of the equation: the dressing and training room facilities, which had just as much of an impact on the Kings as the ice did.

The front of the Culver City Ice Arena
Photo courtesy Los Angeles Kings

LOS ANGELES — With the Culver City Ice Arena on the verge of closing its doors for good on February 2, there have been a lot of people coming out of the proverbial woodwork with their memories of the good’ol days at that rink.

A large part of the Culver City Ice Arena’s history is that it was the practice home of the Los Angeles Kings for more than twenty years, starting in the early 1970’s.

As detailed in the first installment of this series, the Culver City Ice Arena has always been a bare bones facility, and especially for a National Hockey League team, with the uneven ice and boards, practicing there was, to say the very least, a challenge.

But that’s just the half of it, as the dressing and training room facilities also fit under the “bare bones” classification.

“I’m happy about all the aspects of my career, the complete circle from bare bones to high tech,” said Kings retired head athletic trainer Pete Demers, who worked 34 seasons with the Kings, retiring in 2006 after working 2,632 consecutive games. “Culver rink was bare bones, but it was close, and the Forum was close, so it was good. We would practice at Culver rink all the time. 10:00 AM. Guys would be out for lunch by noon. Now, it’s a completely different thing.”

“We had a tiny training room,” added Demers. “In fact, the coaches room, the training room, and shower were in a tiny space. It was very narrow. We were up there for several years, and then, we moved downstairs, where we built a bigger place [where the pro shop is now]. Where the [pro shop] office is now, that was the training room. But we were upstairs first.”

That upstairs room was located in the southeast corner of the facility, and was an obvious add-on to the existing building—an afterthought.

“It was tiny,” Demers noted. “The coaches were right there when you were treating a player. The shower was there, and the toilet was there, so that was uncomfortable a lot.”

“The space was about eight feet wide, and probably about 15 feet to 20 feet in length,” Demers added. “We had a rubbing/massage table in there that we couldn’t leave in the middle. We had to have it against the wall. There was no desk, and the coaches had three chairs, and hooks at one end. That’s where they got dressed. All of the treating and icing down had to be done in that room, and everybody came in there to shower—on the other side of the room there was a wall, and on the other side of the wall was a shower with three shower heads.”

“Outside the training room, in the locker room, there was a sink. Just a small, little sink. That’s where guys would shave, or whatever they were doing.”

Bob Halfacre, who still works with the Kings equipment staff, mostly on game nights, remembered the training room.

“It was so small,” he said. “There were only two single shower stalls for everyone to use, [which conflicts with Demers’ recollection of three]. No laundry. A single urinal. I used to go use the public one. The training room was the size of a Manhattan Beach walk-in closet.”

“Guys would race to get out of their gear to be first in the shower,” he added.

The dressing room was not much better.

“At the far end of the locker room—there were no stalls,” said Demers. “Just hooks. Each guy had three hooks, and he’d hang his gear on that. They’d sit next to one another, cramped in.”

“We used to have to hang all the practice jerseys on poles above the locker room and lower them with pulleys when we needed them,” said Halfacre. “We couldn’t store anything extra there. Everything was at the Forum, including the washing machines. After practice, we would take the dirty laundry back to the Forum or to a laundromat to wash.”

Fast forward to the present, and the Kings have spacious, state-of-the-art dressing and training room facilities, complete with a fully-equipped weight room/gymnasium, laundry capabilities, separate offices and dressing rooms for the coaches, offices/work rooms for the equipment staff, a room to store the team’s sticks, a meeting room with video capabilities, and more.

But back then, like the staff at what was then the Culver Ice Rink, the Kings did the best they could with what they had, and they even tried to improve the dressing and training rooms.

“Later on, we went downstairs,” Demers explained. “We built [training and dressing room facilities] downstairs. Then, we were able to use that room upstairs for more exercise bikes and weights. So in our later years, we were downstairs, where the pro shop is now.”

Despite the challenges posed by their cramped quarters, as stated earlier, the Kings adapted as best they could, and still have fond memories.

“I don’t miss lugging bags up and down the stairs,” said Halfacre. “The job was tough, but I didn’t know better. Great times. So many memories.”

Demers recalled a story involving the very colorful former left wing Dave “Tiger” Williams, who played for the Kings from 1984-88.

“At one end of the [dressing] room was a round heater duct,” Demers reminisced. “One day, Tiger Williams came in to proudly show everybody his new deer hunting bow and arrow. After everybody looked at it, he went down to the far end of the room by the sink. He put an arrow into the bow and shot it right into the heater duct.”

“Everyone was sitting there, horrified. We put a piece of tape over [the duct to seal the hole].”

In 1994, the Kings moved to Iceoplex in the San Fernando Valley, at the time, a state-of-the-art facility.

“Iceoplex was nice, but it was a big change,” Demers noted. “It was a way bigger space [in a former warehouse]. Hot tub, big training room, lots of storage, shelves. We fixed it up and made it look really nice.”

“At Culver, we had one [exercise] bike,” Demers added. “Maybe that’s when the game started to change, and management realized, and the hockey world realized, that’s it’s not just what happens on the ice, it’s how you prepare off the ice that makes a difference, and there’s need to have a facility that’s state-of-the-art.”

In the third installment in this series, Frozen Royalty stopped by the pro shop at the Culver City Ice Arena to speak with Hans Matzel, who has been a fixture there since 1976, and is well known to so many people, past and present, who have called that rink home. But what might surprise you is the important role he played for the Kings, not to mention the fact that he has been immortalized in a couple of movies. Stay tuned for Part 3, coming soon.

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9 thoughts on “Ice At Culver City Ice Arena Was Just Half Of The Story For The LA Kings

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  1. Enjoying your article so far about Culver -spent many nights there playing pick up hockey with Bernie on Wednesday and Sunday nights before we played in the adult league “LACHA” around 1984 as the Hustler Beavers, Top Guns and Stingers. Until the Iceoplex opened in the valley and the majority of games moved there. Looking forward to the 3rd part.

    Rob Case

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