When Olympic hopeful Tonya Harding had her competitor Nancy Kerrigan's knees whacked prior to the 1994 games, sports fans gasped, tabloid headlines raced, and local ice rinks found themselves flooded with business.
"I was a skating school teacher when Harding-Kerrigan happened," said Lisa Sekata, now general manager of the Iceoplex rink in North Hills. "While we usually have 600 to 700 kids in a session, we had more than a thousand around the time that happened. It was the same when the Kings were in the Stanley Cup championship a few years ago."
Feeding off debacles and spectacles alike, ice skating has seen a resurgence in the past few years that seems to have turned around what had for long been a decline in the popularity of Los Angeles area rinks.
The Iceoplex in North Hills, opened in 1992, later to become the Los Angeles Kings' practice facility, was the county's first rink to be built in some 30 years, according to Brad Becken, vice president of finance for Ice Specialty Entertainment Inc. in Van Nuys, the umbrella organization for seven Iceoplex rinks around the country.
Since then, rinks have been built in Simi Valley, Huntington Beach, Anaheim, and one is now under construction in Panorama City.
"This rise in ice rinks all began with the popularity of rollerblades in the late 1980s and early 1990s," said Sean McGillivary, owner of the Easy Street Arena in Simi Valley, which opened in 1994. "Those people progress into playing street hockey and then into ice hockey."
Rink owners and managers say that even when business is not receiving a jolt during and after an Olympic year, or from the rise of a local hero like Torrance's Michelle Kwan, ice time is tight and business is steady.
Most rinks say their ice is typically occupied until 2 a.m. in the winter and until midnight in the summer months. During winter sports seasons, rinks may see weekends of round-the-clock use.
And when those activities finish for the day or the season ends, the Culver City Ice Arena has other late night activities such as "broom ball," a shoes-on-ice game popular with college and high school students who use brooms instead of hockey sticks and balls instead of pucks.
In addition to that, late night ice time is periodically bought by professional skaters swooping through town; for example, Dorothy Hamill sometimes practices at the Culver rink when she is in Los Angeles.
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