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Messier supports Bronx hockey complex proposal

by Brian Compton

Hockey continues to grow by leaps and bounds across the United States. At this year's NHL Draft, left wing Nicolas Kerdiles joined fellow forward Emerson Etem as the second player from Southern California to be selected by the Anaheim Ducks. Late last season, New York Islanders defenseman Matt Donovan became the first player from Oklahoma to reach the NHL, just a couple of months before the Stanley Cup Final featured two American-born captains for the first time in history.

Now, with the New York Rangers building themselves into an annual Stanley Cup contender, their city is hoping to build youth hockey within its five boroughs.

Former Rangers captain Mark Messier and Bronx Borough president Ruben Diaz Jr. have voiced support for a $275 million ice-sports center at the Kingsbridge Armory.

The massive venue is expected to boast nine indoor rinks, a seasonal outdoor rink, and a free figure-skating and hockey program for children. The main rink is expected to seat about 5,000 people, with four more rinks on each side of center ice, stacked two on top of each other. All of the rinks are expected to be NHL or Olympics regulation size.

The Kingsbridge National Ice Center (KNIC) would include 50,000 square feet of community space for groups, along with an education program for local children.

Messier, who helped the Rangers end a 54-year Cup drought in 1994, is a partner in the project, along with former Olympic figure skater Sarah Hughes, a New Yorker who won gold at the Winter Games in 2002.

It is believed the project would be modeled after the Philadelphia-based Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation, which combines hockey and an off-ice life skills curriculum to help build character and academic qualities for inner-city children. The foundation -- which was founded by Flyers owner Snider -- provides equipment, ice time and coaching to more than 3,000 children for free.

Messier, who has worked with various charities for more than two decades, agreed to join the Kingsbridge Armory project because of its potential to help children acquire leadership skills.

"That's what interested me about this project, lending our hand to the kids in the community, using hockey as a metaphor for life, and providing these kids with skills for life, that no matter what they do, no matter where they go, they can take these lessons with them," Messier told The Riverdale Press.

After its military use ended in 1996, the Kingsbridge Armory has been vacant. Several proposals have been made to redevelop the property but have failed.

The New York City Economic Development Corp. is reviewing another proposal, but hopes to reach a decision by the end of 2012. It is estimated by the developers that the ice center -- which would be privately funded -- would attract 2 million people each year and create roughly 1,800 construction jobs and 200 permanent jobs.

The Bronx's first public skating rink is slated to open this fall in nearby Van Cortlandt Park.

"[The ice sports center] will open a new world of possibilities for the future generations of young people in the Bronx," Messier told the (N.Y.) Daily News. "This project is not just about building rinks, it's about creating opportunities for the kids in the Bronx."

Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL

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