« The 2002 Winter Olympics

Big, small inaugurate ice arena

[Reprinted with permission from The Herald Journal.]

From the moment the first performers stepped onto the ice, the standing-room-only crowd at the Eccles Ice Centers Fresh Ice program cheered as if they were rooting for the home team.

The program was the arenas first ice show, and Cache Valley residents fought for parking and last-minute tickets to the sold-out event that featured former Olympians, professional pair skaters and beginning skating students from around the valley. Once inside, it was hard to say who was more enthusiastic, the performers or the audience.

Ive always liked ice events, said Calleen Jones of Paradise. Its neat. Jones said her favorite number was one by Anita Hartshorn and Frank Sweiding, U.S. Open Professional Champions who skated to an instrumental number with a Christopher Columbus theme. The audience alternately gasped and applauded as Hartshorn zoomed across the ice to leap into the arms of her partner, who then hoisted her above his head and twirled her, perpendicular to the ice, with one hand.

The crowd was equally receptive to Stewart Sturgeons comedy routine. Sturgeon lost a skate as his music started, and managed to artfully retrieve it, only to lose it again and show both comedic timing and skating skill as he hopped and twirled on one skate to a samba rhythm.

The biggest cheers went to the newest skaters the 4- to 12-year-olds who have just started taking lessons at the George S. Eccles Ice Center with the Theatre on Ice program. They tottered onto the ice with help from instructors and a giant penguin mascot, and showed their newly-acquired ability to shake their bottoms to Elvis Jailhouse Rock while keeping their balance in ice skates.

The Cache Valley Hockey Association made its debut at the program, with 60 kids ages 4 to 17 showing off their hockey skills.

It was exciting, with the music and everything, said Trevor King, 13, of Logan, who practices hockey with the association every other day. King has played roller hockey for a couple of years, but says ice hockey is more fun because he can do more and use the walls better.

The young hockey players used the walls of the rink to help them change direction, first zipping one way and then clunking into the walls before heading off another way.

Most of these kids have driven back and forth to Ogden for years, said Earl Scott, spokesperson for the Eccles Ice Center. It shows you what kind of parents we have around here.

The Utah State University hockey team clunked less against the walls and more against each other, looking bulkier and more intense than the younger players. The crowd roared during their appearance, for the goalies for blocking shots and for the players who made them.

Olympic bronze medalist and six-time Czechoslovakia champion Jozef Sabovcik performed, seeming to turn the ice into a trampoline with his Michael Jordan-like jumps.

Its a combination of having a really good coach when I was young and figuring out how to use speed and technique to create height, said Sabovcik, whose resting heart rate is in the mid-50s. One day I woke up and couldnt imagine my life without (skating).

The show was the official unveiling of the ice arena after it opened to the public on Jan. 1.