Canton hockey community adjusts to life without Ponky

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Metropolis Rink is pictured on the day of the roof collapse last February. (Moira Sweetland photo)

Metropolis Rink is pictured on the day of the roof collapse last February. (Moira Sweetland photo)

It’s going to be a winter of adjustment for the hockey-crazed town of Canton as teams of all ages and their fans get used to life without their beloved Metropolis Rink.

Closed since last February following the collapse of the roof, the old barn or “Ponky,” as it is affectionately known, has gone from being a hub of activity to a local punch line — a symbol of public inefficiency made all the worse by the rapid rise of the privately owned Canton Ice House facility on the other side of town.

As it stands, both the Canton Youth Hockey and Canton High School programs have managed to cobble together enough ice time for the 2015-16 campaign, and both have already committed to using the new Ice House on North Street once it is completed in the summer of 2016. However, Metropolis is still their home, and the apparent lack of progress with the rebuilding effort has led to widespread frustration across the Canton community.

“This is aggravating and frustrating for the Board of Selectmen and for our residents,” said Selectmen Chairman John Connolly last week. “I’ve had enough. Nine to 10 months — this is ridiculous.”

Connolly said there finally seems to be some movement with the project as the state DCR, which leases the facility to the town, recently approved the winterization plans proposed by the town’s insurer that are designed to protect the remaining structure. Meanwhile, Town Administrator Bill Friel told the Citizen that the missing pieces from the insurer’s initial report — including an assessment of the damage, cost estimates, and coverage determination — were all expected by the end of the month.

The preliminary report, which was delivered to the town in early November, included none of those items and also had several blank pages, eliciting a scathing rebuke from Connolly at the board’s November 10 meeting.

“I can’t understand why we were told the report was coming October 9, and here it is November 6 and it is incomplete,” Connolly said at the time. “The insurance company is holding us hostage.”

Town officials have since put on a full-court press and have repeatedly reminded the insurer that “time is of the essence.” A source also told the Citizen last week that the town would consider taking “appropriate legal action” if there are any further delays.

At the same time, Connolly stressed that the town wants a full rebuild and “not just a fix.”

“There is a lot of red tape here,” he said. “We don’t own the land or the building. We want it done right. There is no halfway.”

As for the displaced local hockey programs, organizers and coaches have all done their best to adjust under less than ideal circumstances, although they agree that it hasn’t been easy.

CHS head boys coach Brian Shuman said the team “hasn’t really dwelled on it” that much, despite the fact that they will play 15 road games this season, including 12 of their final 13 away from Canton. “I think it’s sort of understood that it’s going to be different this season,” he said, “and I think they’ve adjusted well so far and we’re just going to try to take it one game at a time.”

Dennis Aldrich, the head girls coach at CHS, said his staff sat the players down at the start of the season and discussed it right away — the schedule impacts, the unavoidable 6 a.m. practices — so it “wasn’t that pink elephant in the room.”

“It is difficult,” he acknowledged, “but now we can embrace it and use it as a badge of honor. We’re calling this the ‘road season.’”

Both Shuman and Aldrich also expressed their gratitude to the School Committee and the CHS Athletic Department for supporting their programs “100 percent” and for doing all they can to make this an enjoyable season for the players.

Meanwhile, at the youth level, the atmosphere is similarly positive and upbeat, and Canton Youth Hockey President Nick Maffeo said they have “managed things pretty well” this season. Still, Maffeo, who grew up playing hockey at Metropolis and has spent countless hours there as a coach and parent, stressed that CYH is going to need the rink in the future, and the lack of movement to date has been frustrating to say the least, he said.

Already, Maffeo said he is giving it a “zero percent chance” that Metropolis will be open in time for the 2016-17 season, and he has already committed to booking time at the new Ice House for at least the coming year.

“We really need Ponky to eventually come back on line,” he said. “But I see no progress and no movement; therefore, I see no way that it will [be ready next year], which is disappointing.”

Maffeo said he has repeatedly reached out to town leaders and offered the collective expertise of the CYH to help move the process along, but there has been little if any collaboration to date.

“I know the selectmen want this done, but I feel they need to push it forward a little more,” he said. “At the same time, they also feel that their hands are tied.”

Maffeo said the CYH has contingency plans in place and has great support from the Canton hockey community, yet the kids, parents and coaches all certainly miss the old rink.

Just recently, in fact, the Squirt team that his daughter plays on huddled up before the game and shouted “1-2-3 Ponky.”

“That was their chant,” Maffeo said. “They all miss their home.”

Citizen staff reporter Mike Berger contributed to this report.

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