Missing Rink

Missing Rink

A man in his late teens or early 20s was gliding back and forth on one foot.

A young boy had a stack of two milk crates to keep himself steady. His mother had three, for the extra height.

An older brother, maybe 9 or 10, consoled his little sister, promising her that although they could only stay for one more song, they would surely come back tomorrow.

Round and round they went yesterday afternoon at the temporarily reopened Ralph Walker Ice Rink, where Billy Bostic, a retired firefighter who’s helping out part-time, DJed a mix of pop, hip hop, R&B, classic rock and smooth jazz. He shredded on his air guitar during “Sultans of Swing” by Dire Straits and belted into a switched-off mic for the Jennifer Hudson showstopper “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.”

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Music aside, the second half of the afternoon’s two-hour open skate session was relatively quiet, topping out at about a dozen people on the ice at any one time. But oh, what ice. Aside from the roof, which was finished in 1975 and still looks great, the outdoor rink, a local recreational staple for decades before it was closed in 2016, has been completely overhauled, with new compressors, new piping, new boards, new glass (believe it or not, there used to be chainlink fencing above the boards), a new scoreboard, a new Zamboni and even a new size. Now it satisfies high school, college and even pro hockey regulations. The Albertus Magnus hockey team, its logo already emblazoned on the scoreboard’s beveled corners, will call the rink home starting with the 2019-20 season.

Staffer Denzel Dickerson, dressed in bright red like all of his coworkers, noted that mornings have been much busier this week, in part because kids are on February break. Now in his 20s (so he looks, anyway), he remembers skating at Ralph Walker not long after he moved to New Haven at age 7. He extolls the virtues of outdoor rinks like this one and loves the new wall of windows at Walker’s north end, where a prominent geological feature awaits skaters’ eager eyeballs. “To look out there and see East Rock, that’s beautiful… That’s so unique and will bring in so many people.”

The rink’s assistant manager, Steve Fertig, says the differences between Ralph Walker’s old and new versions “are hard to put into words.” He tries anyway, remembering the beat-up wooden boards and chain link fencing of yore. In fact, he remembers the rink before it even had a roof, recalling one potential justification for its construction: that plows clearing the southward side of I-91, which passes very close, were pushing snow and road salt over the edge and onto the ice. Flashing back to the present, he says he knows a lot of people who have missed being able to skate at the rink, but it’s clear he thinks the “extensive” first-phase renovations have been worth the wait.

The second phase is set to begin after the rink closes with the end of the cold season next month. The plan is to convert the entry building—currently housing a box office, a skate rental kiosk, a locker wall, lace-up tables and a fireplace, among other elements—into Albertus Magnus locker rooms and a “team plaza.” Along another edge of the rink will be a spacious warming center flanked by concession windows, a party room, a skate rental room, bathrooms and even a terrace, according to blueprints. The rink itself will host hockey practices and games (including recreational and pickup for youth and adults) and, of course, regular open skate sessions.

In short, it’ll put New Haven back on ice.

Ralph Walker Ice Rink
1080 State St, New Haven (map)
For the most updated info re: operating hours and events, check the rink’s Facebook page.

Written and photographed by Dan Mims. Image 7 features Billy Bostic. Image 11 features Steve Fertig.

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