William Douglas has been writing The Color of Hockey blog for the past seven years. Douglas joined NHL.com in March and will be writing about people of color in the game. Today, he gives an update on the Tucker Road Ducks, a Maryland minority-oriented youth hockey team whose home rink was destroyed by fire in January 2017.
The Tucker Road Ducks are on the verge of finally getting a new pond.
Players and parents from the minority-oriented youth hockey program recently gathered at a pre-demolition party outside the Prince George's County, Maryland, public rink it called home until a two-alarm electrical fire in January 2017 destroyed the facility and forced the Ducks to scramble to find places to practice and play.
The Ducks' nomadic hockey existence is expected to end in late fall next year when a gleaming new, nearly $28 million, 48,860-square-foot rink replaces the burned-out facility.
"This is the ending of an era and the beginning of something new for our community," said Alexandria Briggs-Blake, president of the Tucker Road Parent Hockey Organization. "It's exciting for all of us, especially those who are coming up learning how to play ice hockey [and] figure skating. It's been challenging to keep this Ducks team together, to keep the figure skaters on the ice."
Keeping the Ducks going is a testament the Tucker Road parents and the hockey community. Both groups pressed state and local government officials with the tenacity of fourth-line forecheckers when they felt that the process to rebuild or replace the arena was moving too slowly.
"We weren't having it," said Briggs-Blake, whose son Antonio played for the Ducks and is now a forward with the Bradford Bulls of the Greater Metro Jr. A Hockey League in Canada. "The rink caught on fire. We had expectations when something like that happens to a gem in our community, those responsible for maintaining it … have the proper resources in place to, boom, get it back up. We were a little taken aback at first that they thought we would just be patient. We held their feet to the fire."
Maryland State Sen. Obie Patterson laughed during the party when asked about feeling the heat from Briggs-Blake and other Ducks supporters, though he recalled that he wasn't necessarily laughing while the lobbying effort was going on.
"They were like pit bulls, OK?" Patterson said. "They stayed on it. They came to meetings; sometimes it got very tense, it got very rough. But look what happened? We're all here today, we're all on the same page. And look at the results."
The new facility will seat 300 spectators. It will have modern locker rooms, a warm-up studio, a reception area and a vending café. It will also have the space to eventually add a second NHL-sized ice sheet that will better enable it to host tournaments, camps and figure skating competitions.
More important, the new facility will give the Ducks, a team distinguished by its pink and black jerseys, a place of their own.
The fire forced the team to practice and play at odd hours at rinks 30 miles or more from the Tucker Road Rink, causing commuting and scheduling hardships for some players and parents.
"It's been pretty tough bouncing back and forth to different ice rinks, different times, different practices," said Drew Robinson, a 16-year-old Ducks defenseman. "It wasn't too inconvenient for me because I love hockey, so I do whatever it takes to get to a rink."
The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, Department of Parks, Recreation of Prince George's County did what it could to try to mitigate the pain, helping to arrange ice time at nearby rinks and producing a video last year to help the Ducks recruit players and let the community know that the team was still active despite losing its rink.
"We've tried to make sure that they've had our support over the past two years," said Kira Calm Lewis, a spokeswoman for Prince George's County Department of Parks and Recreation. "The Ducks were in such a situation that we felt we should give them some additional support."
Hockey fans from the region and beyond chipped in with donations. A GoFundMe drive yielded more than $11,000, including $5,300 from the Monumental Sports & Entertainment Foundation, a charitable organization affiliated with the Washington Capitals. The money was used to cover ice rentals, tournaments, referees and other costs. The NHL Players' Association's Goals & Dreams Fund donated 25 new sets of equipment after then-Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik informed the organization about the Ducks plight.
"It was super, it was everything, just priceless," Briggs-Blake said of the support. "It was heartwarming, and we really appreciate that."
The Ducks players and parents are looking forward to their new home, but they took time at the pre-demolition party to write farewell messages on the walls outside the old rink.
"It's been real ice to know you," one player wrote.
"See you on the other side," Briggs-Blake penned.
While there's excitement about the dawn of the new rink, Koi Hamm, the Tucker Road hockey parent organization's treasurer, said there's also a bittersweet feeling about the demise of the old one.
"There are so many memories here," she said. "We just loved this place, an amazing place for kids. We have to grapple with that -- but it's a good kind of grapple."