Youth hockey may be out in cold if Marshall rink is sold

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Hundreds of budding Sidney Crosbys will have to find someplace else to practice their slap shots after next season if the sale of BladeRunners Warrendale Ice Complex in Marshall to Grace Community Church goes through.

Dan Hubert, president of the North Pittsburgh Wildcats, the only youth hockey program to operate out of the Warrendale complex, said a BladeRunners representative told him and representatives of other hockey organizations in a May meeting that there is a sales agreement with the Cranberry-based church but it has not been finalized.

"They said it will take three to six months to go through the formalities, such as zoning, before the agreement is final," said Mr. Hubert, of Franklin Park. "They guaranteed us a 2009-10 season, and after that, it would no longer be an ice rink."

Allan Osterwise, administrative pastor at Grace Community Church, declined comment on the sale. Jim Lybarger, general manager of the three BladeRunners ice complexes in Marshall, Bethel Park and Harmar, would not comment on the sale but said in an e-mail, "The entire 2009-10 hockey season will be played as scheduled at the BladeRunners Warrendale."

The Wildcats organization is among the largest amateur youth hockey programs in Pittsburgh with 22 youth teams, according to Mr. Hubert. He said the Slippery Rock University ice hockey teams and Seneca Valley, North Allegheny, Ambridge and Mars high school ice hockey clubs also call the facility home ice.

"There are a lot of other things that go on there," he said. "Speed skating, figure skating, pickup games -- it's a community issue."

"It's a social loss for the community but also a tax loss, because [the property] is going from a business to a nonprofit," he said.

Mr. Hubert emphasized that he was not upset with the church or BladeRunners about the sale and understands it is a business decision.

"Our understanding is that they've outgrown their church in Butler County in Cranberry," he said.

Grace Community is a nondenominational congregation at 216 Mystic Pine Trail.

"This is nothing against the church, but with our mission of 'kids first,' we feel we have to do everything possible to keep a hockey rink here," Mr. Hubert said.

The 62,000-square-foot BladeRunners, built in 1994 on nine acres at Marshall Drive at the entrance to Thorn Hill Industrial Park, has been marketed for sale by Grubbs & Ellis Co. since September. The asking price of $6.15 million includes ice equipment. The facility seats 600-900 and has two ice rinks and concessions.

The closest ice rinks to Marshall are the Robert Morris University Island Sports Center on Neville Island, BladeRunners Harmarville, the Airport Ice Arena in Moon and Ice Connection in Valencia. The problem, Mr. Hubert said, is getting ice time for so many displaced players. He estimated about 500 players would be displaced by the closing.

Cathy O'Brien, of McCandless, said her two boys and one daughter play for the Wildcats, and her daughter is a scorekeeper.

"Some of these kids will go to [Neville Island], but others will have no place to go," she said. "The teams will become that much more elite in the places where they have ice. There will definitely be kids left hanging."

Mr. Hubert said that after the announcement of the pending sale, "We engaged local politicians, the Penguins and USA hockey" to consider options. He said the teams are waiting for a viability study done by USA Hockey on private versus public ownership of rinks in the Pittsburgh area.

"At this point, we're focusing on other options," Mr. Hubert said. "Is there a chance someone can build a new rink?"

Mrs. O'Brien is not giving up hope. "There's such a love for [ice hockey] in this area, I can't imagine you'll have all these people hanging up their skates. If they rip this rink down, someone has to build one somewhere."

Freelance writer Jennifer Kissel can be reached in care of .


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