Growing up on Staten Island, Ray Farrell, general manager of the newlyopened City Ice Pavilion in Long Island City, can count with two hands the names of professional hockey players from New York City.
To his knowledge, none of them are from Queens.
Farrell hopes to change that with his new ice rink, which he sees as a home for new hockey talent and as a place for the average enthusiast looking to skate outside Manhattan.
Together with a new skating facility opened last week in Flushing Meadows Park, Queens now has two world-class rinks of its own.
“Our objective is Queens,” Farrell said. “It’s a great opportunity to build something. I like to say, it’s better to try and fail than not try at all.”
It’s been a rocky road for the privately-owned and operated facility, construction on which began last summer on the rooftop of a warehouse building at 33th Street and Queens Boulevard in L.I.C.
A November opening date target was missed due to construction delays, dashing hopes of unveiling the rink during the NHL season, which runs from November to May. Now that the facility is open, only a small percentage of Farrell’s skaters are from Queens — with the rest mostly overflow players from crowded rinks at Chelsea Piers and Bryant Park in Manhattan.
But Farrell is confident that the covered mixed-use hockey and recreational ice rink will catch on with its home base. Since taking over in January, he has tried to get the word out in the borough and expects “70 to 80 percent” of his skaters to be from Queens next fall.
Farrell wants to set up after-school hockey and figure skating programs with schools in the area, such as Aviation High School, only a few blocks away.
What might be difficult is breaking the recreational habits of youngsters more enthusiastic about soccer or baseball than hockey. Of Farrell’s 11 nieces and nephews, none play the sport.
Formerly of Wall Street, Farrell has with him a team of Manhattan-based coaches to build the City Ice Pavilion’s programs, including figure skating Director Elise Gallagher, who used to compete in the sport and has been coaching since her teens.
Pat Jackson, City Ice Pavilion’s hockey director, carries with him a multitude of adult hockey league teams and his youth hockey club, the Manhattan Mighty-Mites — a name that will most likely change to accommodate their new Queens digs.
“I’m starting from the bottom. I want to develop good hockey players,” said Jackson, who couldn’t play at a high level because he broke both feet in high school. “I just want kids to develop a love for the sport forever. Doing it in this neighborhood would be pretty cool.”
Farrell doesn’t want to press high expectations on any of his skaters, but he would be lying if he didn’t dream of the day when the City Ice Pavilion could have bragging rights over an NHL talent trained on its ice. At the very least, Farrell would like to see Queens youngsters go to college on a hockey scholarship.
“What we want to say to Queens is, ‘We know you have your football, we know you have your basketball, we know you have your baseball, but now you have hockey,’” Farrell said. “Come out, give us a shot.”