(The Jennifer M. O’Neal Community Ice Arena renderings by Jeff Frame/Frame Architecture, Inc.)

Reno–Imagine your a hockey player in Northern Nevada looking to develop your skills and want to practice but you have no place to play at, what do you do?

Thankfully for the hockey community here in Reno has the perfect person to navigate this daunting task. With a huge appetite, vision, and passion for this great sport the Reno community is fortunate to have Reno Ice President, Joel Grace.

In addition to being President of Reno Ice, Grace is the current Vice President of Development for Reno Land Inc. He serves as RLI’s representative for all of their real estate projects in the region.

What makes him the perfect person for this cause is Grace is originally from back east and comes from a huge hockey hotbed region in New England which is the home territory of an “Original Six” franchise, the Boston Bruins.

“So growing up in New England, I mean everything’s Bruins and you don’t know too much else. But now they have minor league hockey teams and just the kids programing. The amount of ice time and then you have figure skating and everything else is just booming right now and it’s a great way. It’s where you rather have the kids on the ice than doing something else with their friends and kind of keep them out of hot water. So I have just always been a huge hockey fan because of the Bruins.” Grace says.

So with Grace, he has ice in his veins and loves the game of hockey in a big way.

Grace kicked started the Reno Ice project a few years ago with the goal in mind to bring hockey at all levels to Washoe County.

“Back in 2015, I was working with the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada and a board member there who is actually Canadian, was saying he wanted to get an ice facility here. Well, I started doing an outline of how to put this together as a nonprofit and after our research it seemed like nonprofit rinks around the country were the ones that were actually doing well.” Grace said.

In the Pacific Northwest one of those community hockey and ice skating facilities which has employed the nonprofit model, is the Lynnwood Ice Center. The Lynnwood Ice Center has been serving its community for over 30 years in the Seattle market.

What makes Lynwood, WA a special place, is that its in the middle of two Western Hockey League cities, Seattle and Everett. For Seattle they have the Thunderbirds and Everett has the Silvertips.

In the hockey world, Seattle has been pegged as the potential 32nd North American market for an NHL expansion team.

So for Grace and his team from 2015 and on they decided to go thru with the nonprofit model for the Reno Ice facility.

“As we started that endeavor about two months after we kept meeting and figuring out how we were going to do this. A friend of mine in town had said, hey there is somebody else in town doing the same thing so we ended up merging the two groups and we formed a 501(c)(3) called The Greater Reno Community Ice Skating Association (GRCISA).” Says Grace.

GRCISA is the organization spearheading the Reno Ice project in Washoe County. So with GRCISA being the group that has Reno buzzing for ice, Grace informed us today that the community support for the project has been impressive, especially with the folks of the O’Neal Family.

“We were fortunate enough to where we had The Sean and Jennifer M. O’Neal Family Foundation, which is out of Incline Village and their son (Christopher) who heads up the family foundation business, came on our board and he was the other gentleman that was starting the same type of project and we were fortunate enough for phase 1 to get $2 million lead donation from them.” Said Grace.

“So that was a big catalyst to our rise in raising capital.” Grace added.

City National Arena (Vegas Golden Knights Practice Facility) comparison to The Jennifer M. O’Neal Community Ice Arena (Reno Ice Facility)

City National Arena and Reno Ice
(City National Arena Photo by Brad Anderson/Leo A Daly and The Jennifer M. O’Neal Community Ice Arena renderings by Jeff Frame/Frame Architecture, Inc.)

Additional Renderings For The Jennifer M. O’Neal Community Ice Arena

Engineering Layout For The Jennifer M. O’Neal Comunity Ice Arena

The Struggle Is Real In Reno

Grace shared with us the challenges and struggles that he himself along with other families has been dealing on daily basis as Reno is vacant without a facility.

“I’ve been traveling to South Lake Tahoe, which is about an hour and a half to get there every week for games and my kids would like to play and it’s just too far them for practices. There’s a huge insurgence from outside the area. We got people from Michigan, Maryland, all over the place that their kids are used to playing competitive hockey.” Grace said.

“We don’t have a facility and they can’t get them there after school in time for practices and on the weekends they’re traveling to San Jose to play. There’s a lot of kids down here that are currently doing that, but it’s very difficult on the family to try to make that work.” Grace added.

What Grace is saying is that in the Pacific Northwest region, there is one indoor public rink per every 20,173 resident. That’s right, ONE public rink for every 21,000 people.  In the Reno/Sparks marketplace in Nevada is a region without an ice rink for the community to enjoy.

In the hockey world, the best fan in your corner, is the mothers. They are the ones who have to most involvement with travel to get their kids from place to place, especially for games and Grace expanded on that challenge with us today.

“So we actually had an interview with one of our board members whose son plays competitive hockey, actually two of board members sons. One of them played on a Golden Elite Team this past season and they’re traveling to Vacaville. You talk about the moms who are so engaged but they’re spending upwards of sometimes six hours in a car you know three hours each way to get to Vacaville, or two and a half to get to Vacaville.” Says Grace.

With the travel part being such a huge task so does the coordination efforts by hockey moms in Reno and that can be a tough balancing act to accomplish and Grace understands that part completely.

“If you have other kids at home that’s a really tough environment to try to make work because you got make arrangements for other kids to get picked up at school. You’ve got to make arrangements for what were having for dinner and then not to mention the kids are having to do homework in the car traveling back and forth, it’s just a very tough dynamic on both mom and dad, but yeah the hockey mom specifically.” Grace said.

Relationship With The Nevada Jr. Wolfpack Hockey Team

Just as the Golden Knights have done with their youth hockey program in Vegas with the Vegas Junior Golden Knights, the same thing is going on in Reno with the Nevada Jr. Wolfpack program.

Grace informed us today that his team at GRCISA has two key members with the Jr. Wolfpack hockey program on their board and that is a huge bonus to have.

Louie Trio, who heads that up and Tasha Anson who’s on our board, she’s actually the Vice President for the Jr. Wolfpack and their teams are set to go. Right now they’re renting ice time up at the lake and then they are traveling to Mammoth and San Jose, and you know it’s one thing to travel for tournaments but to have that being kind of a common occurrence because that’s the closest place where you can get tournament ice it’s a very difficult situation.” Says Grace.

For those who aren’t familiar with Mammoth Ice Rink its a outdoor setup in Mammoth Lakes, CA and is roughly a three hour drive from Reno.

What Does The Future Holds For The Nevada Jr. Wolfpack Hockey Program

As the Las Vegas Storm converted under the Golden Knights banner last year, the Wolpack in Reno would like to do the same and follow suit in what has been done in Southern Nevada.

“We have had a discussion with them because they obviously want to be the travel team for our facility for USA Hockey. Our discussions early on with them were hey, we really want to talk to the Knights, if that’s the case we’re going to want you to change the name and there was no issue there. So yes, they’re fully on board to do whatever they need to do when we find the right partner.” Grace replied.

The Return Of College Hockey To UNR?

At one point in time, the University of Nevada Reno did have a men’s ice hockey team at the club level but it disbanded due to travel issues. So with The Jennifer M. O’Neal Community Ice Arena on the horizon the return of the college program could be a possibility.

Down in Vegas, the UNLV Skatin Rebels men’s ice hockey team plays most of their home games at “City National Arena”and Grace would like this to be replicated in Reno for UNR down the road.

“So naturally we’d love to see UNR do that, whether or not they can or will is to be determined. They have had a club hockey team in the past that was traveling to Roseville to play and it kind of disbanded because it’s tough on the kids to travel over the hill again.” Grace on the potential of UNR men’s ice hockey returning to Reno.

Things in the Northern part of the state are definitely heating up and its only a matter of time when hockey players and ice skaters from all ages and walks of life will be playing and practicing at The Jennifer M. O’Neal Community Ice Arena on a full time basis.

So for the greater Reno community, Reno Ice is the answer to what hockey families have been waiting for. This will make Northern Nevada a true hockey destination, and for the community a place to appreciate and enjoy together.

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