Ducks gather at new inline facility–The Rinks–in Corona

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Posted February 18, 2009 in News

Not by any stretch of the imagination was 2008 a good year for the city of Corona—foreclosures, unemployment, layoffs and wildfires all combined to paint a stark civic picture for the Circle City. Likewise, the year wasn’t so great for the Anaheim Ducks. Owner and Broadcom billionaire Henry Samueli pleaded guilty to lying to federal regulators and, while awaiting sentencing, was suspended by the NHL. There’s that and, well, the Ducks failed to defend their Stanley Cup, being unceremoniously dumped by the Stars in six games. This year, they may not make the playoffs at all.

 

So it was with great hopes and anticipation that the Ducks descended on Corona Monday afternoon for a star-studded grand opening of The Rinks, an inline roller hockey arena built specifically for kids. To kick it off, the Ducks brought along some championship firepower, led by right-winger Teemu Selanne, rookie sensation Bobby Ryan and longtime color analyst Brian Hayward, as well as the Ducks acting COO Michael Schulman, Executive VP of the Honda Center Tim Ryan, and two other members of the 2007 NHL champs, center Rob Niedermayer and defenseman Chris Pronger.  

 

Escaping the soggy President’s Day skies and waiting breathlessly for them at the rink were a couple hundred rabid fans, kids in their junior league jerseys, well equipped with skates and sticks, and their parents, hovering around two mammoth and menacing blow-up Ducks balloons, knocking pucks around and engaging in gentle horseplay with Ducks mascot Wild Wing.  

 

The Duck players were a bit delayed, due to an extended morning practice, the team’s punishment for their abysmal performance the night before against the Atlanta Thrashers. So Tim Ryan took to the microphone for some lofty pronouncements.  

 

“This is a long-term process. The Ducks have spent millions of dollars to support inline roller hockey, and they are in it for the long haul.”

 

Yet amidst the camera-snapping crowd, the makeshift souvenir shop hawking everything from Duck jerseys to Ducks lanyards, the advertisements for Winter Clinics and the opportunity to sign up for organized roller hockey leagues, something seemed to be missing—representatives from the city of Corona. There was not a city politician or staff worker to be found.

 

There was (exactly) one key Corona resident there, Ken Murchison, who is General Manager of the The Rinks. 

 

“This is a tremendous thing for the city. For a pro team to be involved with youth sports, it’s nice to bring it here.” It was Murchison’s own involvement with inline roller hockey that brought him to Southern California in the first place.

 

“I was playing hockey for the University of New Brunswick and I got a call asking if I wanted to come out to California and play for the Anaheim Bullfrogs,” said Murchiso. The Bullfrogs tore up the Roller Hockey International league in the mid-’90s before the league croaked. Murchison, a native Canadian, immediately took to the climate and, realizing professional hockey was not in the cards as a player, decided to put his sports administration college degree to good use. He now oversees The Rinks program, which has two other locations in Anaheim and Huntington Beach.  

 

To get the arena off to a whooshing start, a junior hockey exhibition match was played—the Teemu-nators vs. Pronger’s Pride—but once Selanne and his teammates arrived all anyone cared about was sticking a jersey in their faces and getting an autograph, with the Finnish Flash himself the primary recipient of their affection.  

 

Pounding on the protective glass, three young fans tried in vain to get Selanne’s attention.  

 

“Teemu, can I get an air hug?”

 

“If you love him so much, marry him.”

 

“Teemu, I will marry you!”

 

Yet at the end of the event, there were no answers from Duck personnel about the dearth of city employees. Was anyone from the city invited? When asked, Murchison seemed puzzled and deferred the question to the Duck PR staff. Lauren O’Gorman, Media and Communications Manager for the Ducks, also said she didn’t know why.  

 

Staff themselves were likewise bewildered. Contacted the next morning, there seemed to be no knowledge at City Hall that any event of this sort had taken place. A city worker who was not authorized to comment said only that there was a variety of reasons why no city officials attended, among them prior commitments or the conspicuous absence of an invitation.

 

Later that day a Ducks team spokesperson expressed regret over the miscommunication, saying the event was held to herald the launch of the program encompassing Orange and Riverside counties.  

 

“The event was more program-specific than city-specific.  We are excited to plant roots in Corona.”

–Kevin Ausmus


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