Belle Vernon may not seem like the most likely place to hold a strong passion for hockey, but the community's demonstration of enthusiasm and pride proved that they are as passionate as anyone, winning the title of Kraft Hockeyville USA 2017.
This means the Rostraver Ice Garden will host an NHL preseason game between the Penguins and St. Louis Blues on September 24, and receive $150,000 in rink improvements.
As a way to congraulate them, the Penguins invited rink owner Jim Murphy, President of Mon Valley Thunder youth hockey program Gary Napoli and the California University of Pennsylvania equipment manager who nominated the rink, Chris Kostick, to the game. They were beyond thrilled for the opportunity to be in attendance and for their contest victory.
"This is amazing," Kostick said. "Rostraver Ice Garden is such an important piece of the community in the Monongahela Valley. I see not only Cal. U's hockey team, but Mon Valley Thunder Youth organization, the high school teams that play there and all of the kids and family that are there Friday and Saturday nights just for public skates. The place is always packed, so I thought the community should give it a shot."
Belle Vernon's Rostraver Ice Garden was one of more than 1,300 communities across the country that submitted stories and with the obstacles the rink has faced, they truly showed the hockey dedication.
The Ice Garden opened in 1965 and has underwent a lot of wear and tear in its 52 years, including having its roof collapse nearly seven years ago from heavy snow. This caused damage to nearly one-third of the structure and the rink has been in need of renovations ever since, earning itself the nickname of "most resilient rink in country."
"When the roof collapsed we lost over half of our kids and we were afraid the rink was not going to open up," Napoli said. "We managed to scrape by and get enough to have four teams and those teams stuck together and we started growing again from there. We are still continuing to grow. We add new teams every year and the kids are coming back to us and I think that winning this is going to bring even more back to Mon Valley."
This win marks the second time in three years that the Kraft Hockeyville USA competition was captured by a town and rink in Western Pennsylvania as Johnstown, Pa. was the inaugural winner in 2015. The Penguins organization does not let that go unrecognized.
"We salute the Rostraver Ice Garden and its many supporters for this tremendous achievement- and for what it says about the impact of hockey in western Pennsylvania," said David Morehouse, president and CEO if the Penguins. "This really is a hockey country. The passion of our fans our vibrant youth hockey community has been rewarded once again."