Walk into the Connecticut Whale’s new home, the Danbury Ice Arena, and within a few steps, there is a realization that, regardless of the time of year, this venue is a winter wonderland for the blade brigade.
Whether it’s instructional skating sessions, youth clinics, junior and adult recreational programs, and amateur and professional play, this is clearly the place to be for area enthusiasts of all things ice-related.
There’s even a new hockey league starting in the fall just for girls and will be known as the Junior Rangers. The program couldn’t be debuting at a better time with the arrival of the Whale and the National Women’s Hockey League team’s impact on those aspiring youngsters.
During a recent visit to the Danbury facility, which is undergoing major renovations, it is obvious why the Whale and arena management sealed the deal on what both hope will be a long-term relationship.
Casey Bryant, the director of communications under the new ownership group put in place when Diamond Properties purchased the sprawling center back in March, served as the guide for a tour through the many activity areas including the main 2,000-plus seat rink.
Triple Play on the Home Ice
It is in this multi-level viewing area that the Whale will join the Danbury Hat Tricksof the Federal Hockey League among the pro ranks in the primary portion of the overall arena complex.
There’s also the Danbury Colonials, an amateur team in the North American Tier III Hockey League. Formerly the Niagara Falls (N.Y.) Powerhawks, the Colonials are members of the league’s Northeast Division.
Like the Whale and Hat Tricks, the Colonials add another dimension to an ambitious undertaking of bringing hockey to the forefront in a city that has long produced talented athletes in that sport.
The arrival of the Whale represents yet another very positive step in a culture centered around hockey.
“Danbury is a very proven hockey market, and that’s why having the Whale here is so exciting because it brings a new dynamic and a new demographic to our community,” Bryant said.
As part of the ongoing remodeling, the ice and boards have been completely overhauled. Workers were also busy with upgrades to the suites and bleacher seating areas. There will also be standing room sections.
No stranger to the doings at the Danbury Ice Arena is former National Hockey League veteran Colton Orr, who was recently introduced as the Whale’s new head coach. Laura Brennan, a veteran of the NWHL who was on the Whale staff as goalie coach last season, will return to the bench as Orr’s assistant.
Orr, who played 12 seasons in the NHL with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins and New York Rangers, is the co-owner of the Colonials and his daughter is a member of the Learn To Play Hockey program in Danbury.
Participants are introduced to the basics of ice skating at ages four or five, and then get their first taste of hockey as a natural progression to that experience.
Whale a ‘Perfect Fit’ in Danbury
“We love the idea of building our girls youth program around the Whale coming here,” said Herm Sorcher, the arena’s co-managing partner along with Chris Buonanno. “These girls are getting their first impressions of the sport and are trying hockey for the first time, so what better way to enhance that than having the Whale to emulate. It’s a perfect fit.”
Sorcher noted that the Whale coaches and players have indicated their willingness to support the girls’ initiatives with clinics and other interactions aimed at building positive relationships both on and off the ice.
“The Whale is a great tenant for us and brings so much to our culture here. We couldn’t be more thrilled,” Buonanno added.
On the building’s second level, a new weight room including off-ice training equipment is being constructed, along with new administrative offices and a concession stand.
The Whale are scheduled to have a few more practice sessions this week prior to their exhibition game against the University of Connecticut on Saturday, Sept. 28 at the Freitas Ice Forum in Storrs. Faceoff is at 3:00 P.M.