Written by Judd Spicer
Ice Alert: Players donning Firebirds’ sweaters aren’t the only ones able to enjoy a premier desert skate.
Rather, with the December debut of the Berger Foundation Iceplex adjoining Acrisure Arena, enthusiasts of all ages and skill levels can now enjoy a full menu of hockey leagues, pick-up games, figure skating, social skates, instruction, private rentals and introductory ice opportunities.
Dubbed “The Coolest Place in the Desert,” the Iceplex turned the page to 2023 sporting a full, year-round calendar of on-ice options.
“Yes, there was a rink in the desert before, but it didn’t truly offer the opportunity for everybody,” says Leslie Deason, general manager of the Berger Foundation Iceplex. “At our new facility, I really want to provide opportunities for all skaters. The Iceplex is open to hockey, figure skaters, recreation, kids and the adult community. This ice is open for all to enjoy, and I really want to be able to educate our community on the skating path.”
Said path is framed by the Iceplex’s 36,000-square-foot setting, which includes NHL-quality ice, concessions, ample off-ice seating and mezzanine space, four locker rooms and a pair of social spaces. On-site parking is free for registered guests.
Running a full calendar of ice time seven-days-a-week, all programs and leagues will run and renew on a near-quarterly basis, meaning it’s never to late to sign up for any rink endeavor.
The slate of skate opportunities affirms Deason’s aims.
Open to all ages, the Iceplex’s “SK8 Academy” serves as a welcoming, introductory option to get laced-up and learn basic blade skills.
For kids eager to be a future Firebirds, Deason and team have curated a feeder system designed to graduate hockey youth from one stage to the next. Shannon Miller, vice president of branding and community relations for the Firebirds, is further serving as director of hockey at the Iceplex.
“It’s an exciting time in our valley,” says Miller, former Olympic head coach for Team Canada and a five-time NCAA championship coach. “I think we planted the seeds of hockey excitement when we started our Steet Hockey Program. Across this valley, in six months, we put 6,000 kids through this program. It shows that the people of the Coachella Valley want to learn hockey. Now, we need to transition these kids from street hockey to ice hockey.”
Such a transition will begin, for many, with the “Lil’ Firebirds Learn to Play” program. Designed for ages 6-10, outfitting kids in hockey gear comes via complement of donations from the NHL.
“For our Level I program, all of the hockey gear is included,” explains Deason. “When parents sign up, all their gear is delivered, right to their house, skates included.”
From “Lil’” comes bigger, with the “Firebirds Youth Rec Hockey” program set to unveil in February and designed as the next stage of play.
“There’s a game plan for these kids,” adds Miller, “as these are the foundations of becoming a hockey player.”
Owning the American Hockey League’s best winning percentage midway through their inaugural season, the Firebirds’ early franchise success has no doubt contributed to Iceplex engagement.
“A lot of these people may have never even been to a hockey game,” Miller says. “But they’re coming out to experience the game, and starting to love it – it’s fast, physical, it’s hard-hitting and exciting. People are understanding the game and want more. And the more the team wins – it’s helps everybody. It’s all connected; it’s symbiotic.”
The adult hockey set is well-sated at the Iceplex, with a menu featuring a wide-range of co-ed hockey opportunities, ranging from “Learn to Skate” and pick-up play to leagues which are taking shape in real time. Along with Rookie League play and the Silver Sticks (55-and-over) league, experienced players have fast evidenced an appetite for ice time.
“We were hoping to start with four adult hockey teams (ages 18-and-over), and we already have eight,” enthuses Miller. “And that’s in mid-January, before we’ve even begun to play.”
Echoes Deason of the calendar action:
“This season, I had a group of snowbirds book my ice for two hours every weekday afternoon for their pick-up games,” the general manager says.
Coupled with public skating sessions which have already seen the likes of 300 attendees for a single skate, Deason’s métier as an elite figure skating coach across the past two-plus decades has already resulted in an all-star marquee of Iceplex connections.
The facility will include U.S. Figure Skating’s “Aspire Edge” program, and high-level coaching, training and presence will come via the likes of Frank Carroll (former coach to Michelle Kwan and Evan Lysacek) as Elite Figure Skating Consultant to the Iceplex, and Olympic gold medal-winner Dorothy Hamill as Official Berger Foundation Ambassador.
With the maiden season of Acrisure Arena and desert pro hockey fast proving a communal asset, Deason sees the growth of the Iceplex working in kind.
“In the desert, we’re still a small community in some respects, so this ice is also about providing a fun, new and exciting thing to do,” she says. “The Iceplex isn’t just about skating. It’s about having fun, making friends. This isn’t just about skating circles around a rink. We’ll soon grow to have ‘DJ Skates’ and light shows; I want this to be a local Mecca of entertainment.”
And come the eventual conclusion of the Firebirds’ maiden campaign, the cool new Iceplex won’t see any melt in activity amid the summer sizzle.
“To be able to have a rink and facility like this in the middle of the Coachella Valley is still a little mind-blowing,” Miller concludes. “But come our eventual 115-degree temps, we really are going to be the ‘Coolest Spot in the Desert.’”For more information on hockey leagues, skating instruction, private rentals, public skates, figure skating programs and more, glide on over to: www.bergerfoundationiceplex.com