The Rebirth of a Frozen Pond
By Mike O’Brien
When the floods swept through the Wyoming Valley this past September, the devastation was immediate for many of its victims. Homes were lost, belongings were destroyed and many were forced to rebuild.
For the Riverside Park Ice Rink in Tunkhannock, the situation was unique. Simply put, they lost everything. Given though the numerous property casualties throughout the area, it would be understandable if most people weren’t focused on the destruction of an outdoor ice rink during the last weeks of the summer.
The Riverside Park Ice Rink is annually a scene out of a Canadian winter. Head down there any day when the mercury hasn’t reached 32 degrees and you will see children and adults alike playing pick-up hockey on a frozen sheet of ice that measures 144’ by 64’. A campfire by the rink is used by participants and spectators to cook up some food between games or give a brief respite from the chill. If more drastic measures are needed, a warming hut stands not too far away.
Some of the more creative or utilitarian types even put a foiled-wrapped potato by the fire during a game of shinny, use it to warm up their skates afterwards and then unwrap it for a quick snack before they hopped back on the ice.
This was before Hurricanes Irene and Lee...
The turn of the calendar year has recently brought a new tradition for fans of hockey. For the last five years, the National Hockey League’s Winter Classic has brought the outdoor game to the largest possible stage and captivates millions.
For the several hundred devotees of Riverside Park Ice Rink, the New Year has meant a different kind of tradition since 1996. As soon was weather conditions allowed, the rink would open to all who wished to play. Free to those who had their own equipment, a $1 donation to use rink’s equipment. Either way, you could play pond hockey for hours on end and even into the night thanks lights that been installed.
Originally the brainchild of Ken Lee, the torch has since been carried on by Tunkhannock-resident and rink manager, Sam Elias. Elias first got involved with the outdoor rink 11 years ago with his initial stab at skating. That skate evolved into a love of hockey and eventually volunteering to help maintain the rink. In 2007, Elias took over full-time as its manager.
The construction and maintenance of the rink is reliant entirely on help from volunteers and donations from the local community. Through the generosity of others, Elias has in the past been able to replace a damaged a liner and stock the warming shed with over 50 pairs of ice skates for public use.
And then the rains came…..
The effects of the floods were catastrophic and Riverside Park Ice Rink was wiped away. Determined to re-open for the 2012 season, Elias spearheaded efforts to raise enough funds to return the rink to its former stature.
The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and other organizations such as High Energy Fitness jumped on board to help replace the warming shed and the lumber for the frame of the rink. The Jr. Penguins are also currently holding an equipment drive to restore the rink’s collection of sticks and skates.
The saying usually goes that rebirth comes from the ashes. In this case, it came from the waters of the nearby the Susquehanna River. Elias’ herculean efforts, along with those of numerous volunteers, have the rink ready to re-open on January 13th and faithful of Riverside Park Ice Rink need not miss any time on the frozen pond.