CULVER CITY ICE ARENA CLOSING: Without some kind of miracle reprieve, the Culver City Ice Arena will close for good on February 2, 2014. One man, who has been a fixture there for 37 years, has not only been a big part of that rink, but he also played a significant role for the Los Angeles Kings. Part 3 in a four-part series.
LOS ANGELES AND CULVER CITY, CA — As has previously been reported in this space, and across various Los Angeles media outlets, the Culver City Ice Arena is on its last legs, unless a miracle happens.
The property has been leased to Planet Granite, which plans to open a yoga, rock climbing and fitness facility at the site.
The rink will close on February 2, and unless the new lessee backs out of their agreement, it appears that there will no longer be an ice rink serving the hockey and figure skating communities on the Westside of the Los Angeles area.
What is not all that well known these days is that the Culver City Ice Arena plays a significant role in the history of the Los Angeles Kings, as it was their practice facility for more than twenty years, until they moved to Iceoplex in the San Fernando Valley in 1994.
In Parts 1 and 2 of this series, former Kings players and staff shared some of their memories of what they knew as the Culver Ice Rink, both positive and negative, including the challenges and obstacles that the poor ice conditions and cramped, ill-equipped dressing and training room facilities presented for them.
In this installment, Frozen Royalty spoke with a man who was not employed by the Kings, but played a significant role for them while they practiced at the Culver City Ice Arena. Indeed, when you talk to former Kings players and staff who were with the team back then, they all mention him with nothing but praise and fond memories.
As mentioned earlier, the Kings left Culver City twenty years ago. But would you believe this man is still there?
That man is Hans Matzel, who runs the pro shop, where he sells hockey and figure skating gear, sharpens skates and much more, and has been there since 1976, when he hooked up with Art Guiney.
“When we first got there, it was Art Guiney’s Sports Shop,” said Kings retired head athletic trainer Pete Demers, who worked 34 seasons with the Kings before retiring in 2006 after working 2,632 consecutive games. “Art was there, running the place, selling figure skates and hockey gear.”
“His store was in the front of the building,” added Demers. “Hans came in as his business partner. Art eventually retired, and later, passed away. Hans then took over.”
“Art got out the same year the Kings moved to Iceoplex in 1994,” said Matzel. “That’s when I bought out Art, who took ill, and passed away in 1995.”
Demers praised Matzel for his dedication.
“What a commitment he has made to the community by staying in that store,” Demers stressed. “He’s not a young man, but he’s still there, and he doesn’t have to be. It’s service to the community. He wants to provide for the community.”
Demers pointed out that Matzel was a key player for the Kings in those days.
“We would buy all of our equipment from him,” said Demers. “We’d order our sticks direct from the factory, but all of our skates and [other] gear, we bought from him. Before that, W.A. Goodman in Downtown Los Angeles took care of our jerseys, and we would buy our other stuff through Art Guiney, and then, Hans.”
“[The Kings’ relationship with] W.A. Goodman only lasted into the 70’s,” added Demers. “After that, Hans took care of all of the lettering for our jerseys, too.”
Matzel was the Kings’ sole equipment supplier for 13 years.
“I supplied them exclusively from about 1979 to 1992,” he said. “Then, the NHL got into it and started to supply [teams] directly. The NHL also started licensing. Every manufacturer had to pay a fee [in order to sell equipment to teams]. At that point, individual dealers were completely shut out.”
“They froze me out,” he added. “When Rogie Vachon was the general manager, he came to me and apologized.”
Matzel worked closely with Demers in those days.
“At the end of a season, Peter would tell me, ‘by August 15, have this many socks, this underwear, this kind of pants, etc.,’” said Matzel. “I had a very good working relationship with Peter. We got along great, and I got along with the players. They were class guys. Marcel Dionne. Dave Taylor. Charlie Simmer. Jay Wells. Tiger Williams? Say what you want, but he was not a jerk to me.”
Even though so many years have passed, Matzel still has fond, vivid memories of his work with the Kings.
Many will remember one of the most popular players in Kings history, center Butch Goring, who played for the Kings from 1969-80, is sixth on the team’s all-time scoring list, and went on to win four Stanley Cups with the New York Islanders.
Goring was known for the flimsy helmet he wore. But few know that his skates were unusual, as well.
“Butch Goring used Velcro [on his skates], Matzel noted. “He never used laces. They made custom skates for him with Velcro straps. Bauer skates with Velcro straps.”
Matzel remembered that years later when a customer with special needs entered his store.
“I had a lady come in,” he recalled. “She was very well-to-do, but she had Parkinson’s Disease. She wanted a pair of skates, but couldn’t tie her skate laces.”
“We made a pair of custom boots, and I thought, ‘Butch Goring used Velcro,’ so we added Velcro,” he added. “She couldn’t lace the hooks and eyelets, but she could use the Velcro.”
Matzel also recalled a story involving former Kings goaltender Roland “Rollie” Melanson, who played for the Kings from 1985-89.
“I was upstairs—my office was upstairs, and Peter called,” Matzel reminisced. “He asked, ‘got a goalie cup? I need one for Rollie. His cup broke.’”
The cup broke when Melanson was struck by a puck.
“I got the goalie cup, and brought it here [to his shop],” Matzel said. “He was in here, and put the goalie cup on. I went back upstairs, and I’m not even sitting down, and Peter calls again, ‘have you got another goalie cup? He just broke the second one.’ But then, Peter said, ‘don’t hurry. He’s walking out.’”
“I think, the second time, they aimed,” Matzel added, laughing. “‘Let’s see if we can do it again.’ Rollie stormed out.”
One of Matzel’s favorite players to work with was Dionne.
“The easiest player to work with, in terms of equipment, was Marcel Dionne,” said Matzel. “There was never a problem. Marcel took a dozen sticks and said, ‘they’re fine.’ He never rejected a stick. I could never get any used sticks from him.”
“He also came in, the last week of August, asking about his skates,” added Matzel. “‘Got my skates?’ He wore the [CCM] Super Tacks 7CA. Never a problem.”
“‘Are they sharpened? Do they have an edge, he would ask. I said, ‘Yeah,’ and he would say, ‘OK. All I want is an edge.’”
Then there were the picky, difficult players.
“[Forward] Jay Miller (1988-92)—out of 32 Sher-Wood sticks, he rejected thirty,” Matzel lamented. “[Center] Steve Kasper (1988-91) also rejected one stick after another.”
Matzel identified [right wing] Ron Duguay (1987-89) as being the most unreasonable and difficult to work with when it came to his equipment, but the details are not appropriate for publication.
Matzel Developed His Love For Hockey Early
After 37 years at the Culver City Ice Arena, many customers have been in and out of Matzel’s shop, and whenever you talk to someone who knows him, they speak highly of him, often using an odd combination of terms like “mentor,” “teacher,” and “father figure,” along with “curmudgeon.”
It took just one interview for this reporter to understand why. But how did a native of what was then East Germany get into hockey?
“People have asked me, ‘how did you get into skating?’ I started to skate as a kid,” said Matzel, who was born in 1934, and is a native of Gardelegen, Germany. “Then they ask, ‘what kind of arena did you have?’ There was no arena. ‘What did you skate on?” We actually skated on a pond.”
“The town I lived in was in the middle of Germany,” added Matzel. “That was actually not quite twenty miles into [what was then] East Germany. The town goes back to the 1100’s. It was surrounded by a wall and a moat. The pond was left from the moat. That froze, and that’s what we played on. That was our ice rink, but it was also used for harvesting, because in the 1940’s, there was no refrigeration. They harvested ice and sold it for ice boxes. There were no refrigerators.”
“We played hockey there. At the time, [East Germany] was under the Russians. I had one pair of shoes, and my mother prohibited me from wearing those shoes [while playing], or I’d have no shoes. The skates [back then] were just a blade. We stole telephone wire and bound them to our bare feet. You skated to stay warm.”
“Our hockey sticks—there was a certain bush that grew [in a particular way] that we cut and shaved. That was our hockey stick. Our puck was a stone. We played four or five hours in the afternoon.”
Talk about primitive and extreme, compared to today’s equipment. But the lengths Matzel went to just to play hockey exemplify just how much he loved the game, something that would become very apparent as he escaped the Iron Curtain and made his way to Southern California.
“I lived in East Germany,” said Matzel. “My sister had left in 1949, and I wanted out, too. I escaped on March 4, 1950. It was the first time in my life that these [expletive deleted] shot at me.”
“They had guards at the border,” added Matzel. “My Mother wanted me to go. She stayed behind, but left later. She found a guide to take me across the border. It was actually an old lady, and her daughter was a hooker. But she knew, by sleeping around with the policemen, exactly when the shift changes were, and she told her mother.”
Matzel has vivid memories of his escape from East Germany.
“[The border] was a high railroad embankment,” he recalled. “Actually, the border was just on the other side of it. My Mother took me to the embankment and we waited. When the guard shift changed, I think it was around 2:30 AM, I went over. I hit the border, which was also a bike path. Next was a creek, about six feet wide, and it was frozen. But the ice on the edges—there was no water underneath. That made a hell of a racket at 2:30 in the morning. The searchlights came on, and they shot at me.”
“I was infuriated,” he exclaimed. “I was in West Germany! I thought, ‘you bastards don’t have the right to shoot at me!’ I was so infuriated, if I had a gun, I would’ve turned around and shot back at those bastards!”
After making his way to West Germany, Matzel moved to Canada in 1956, and then followed his sister to Santa Monica, California in 1969.
“My sister later moved here, and I came here in 1969 for a vacation,” Matzel explained. “At the time, industry was booming because of the Vietnam War. I applied, and, at the time, the United States Government admitted 20,000 immigrants from any given country, and I qualified as German.”
“I got a job producing swimming pool chemicals,” Matzel elaborated. “But in 1976, I already knew Art Guiney. I got together with him.”
The rest, as the saying goes, is history.
In 1992, after 18 years running the pro shop at the Culver City rink, to his surprise, Matzel was immortalized in two movies by someone he mentored.
“Steven Brill was a young man, who, as a 19 or 20-year-old, wanted to play hockey,” said Matzel. “Steven wanted to learn how play hockey. He came in here, I outfitted him, and told him about the basics of hockey, as best as I could.”
“Years later, he came back, and told me that he’d written a film,” added Matzel. “A movie. Disney was doing it. He said, ‘you are in it.’”
In Disney’s The Mighty Ducks (1992), and D3: The Mighty Ducks (1996), the Hans character, played by English actor Joss Ackland, was based on Matzel, even though the character was Norwegian, not German. But like Matzel, the character was a mentor, teacher and father figure.
“I think it reflected me pretty well,” Matzel noted. “I’ve always said, first, learn how to skate, because that’s where the game is played—on ice. Second, you do not need a super-curved stick. Get a straight stick, because the Russians did it. All the Russian kids started with a straight stick, and boy are they stick-handlers. I also stress teaching kids the fundamentals and sportsmanship. Those are things I believe in.”
Like so many others, Matzel lamented the apparent demise of the Culver City Ice Arena, and was critical of the property owners.
“The people who own this property also own [the properties across the street], Pep Boys and the Auto Club (Pep Boys is located at the site of the former California Highway Patrol station that has since moved to Bristol Parkway, also in Culver City),” said Matzel. “I think the income from this property, and Pep Boys provides pretty good income. How much more do you need?”
“I think the owners, whether they care or don’t care, it would be nice if they provided service to the community, and Planet Granite will not provide service to the community, I don’t care what anybody says,” added Matzel.
Matzel also noted a lost opportunity.
“The biggest mistake made was when Dr. Jerry Buss [the late owner of the Los Angeles Lakers who also owned the Kings] bought the rink in 1984,” Matzel lamented. “He didn’t buy the property. At that time, he got the rink for just about nothing. The property would’ve been relatively cheap, not what they want for it now. I always bemoaned that fact.”
Matzel indicated that the way things have gone with the rink’s lease over the past two years has been especially devastating for him.
“I have no idea why, when the lease expired, which I understand was in 2011, things have been dragging on [with six month extensions, until now],” Matzel complained. “For me, it destroyed any chance I had to sell the business, because I tried in 2008. They asked, ‘how much of the lease is left? Three years? Forget it. We want a minimum of five, if not ten years.’ So that destroyed it.”
“I’ll have to sell out for [pretty much] nothing,” Matzel added. “That’s it. Fortunately, my kids are independent, so there’s no baggage there. But for myself, I don’t know how much of a struggle it might be. But to open a store again, it would be extremely difficult.”
Even though the likelihood of saving the Culver City Ice Arena appears to be very, very slim, in the final installment of this series, Kings radio color commentator Daryl Evans, who played right wing for the Kings from 1981-85, and practiced at the Culver City Ice Arena, shares his thoughts on what could be done, should an ice rink still be within the realm of possibilities at the site.
- Culver City Ice Arena Declared A Significant “City Cultural Resource”
- City of Culver City Must Declare Culver City Ice Arena As A Significant City Cultural Resource
- Open Letter To Culver City City Council on Culver City Ice Arena
- 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?
- Ice At Culver City Ice Arena Was Just Half Of The Story For The LA Kings
- Los Angeles Kings Reminisce About Their Days At Culver City Ice Arena
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