Dedicated Ice Rink Coming Back To The Valley

The revamped facility will allow semi-pro, college and local rec teams to have ice available when needed.

The Lancerlot athletic complex in Vinton was once home to a minor league hockey team – before the roof caved in during a snowstorm more than three decades ago. But now the ice rink there will return by this fall if all goes well, after a coalition of ten partners agreed to buy the Lancerlot from current owner Henry Brabham.

The dedicated rink – the first in Roanoke after the demise of the Ice Station over a decade ago – means a second home for youth and adult recreation hockey leagues, public skating sessions and another practice rink for the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs and for Virginia Tech’s club hockey squad.

Right now when the Berglund Center has to cover the ice for concerts, monster trucks or other events, local hockey clubs must scramble for ice time elsewhere out of town. Virginia Tech, for instance, has traveled to the LaHaye Center at Liberty University in Lynchburg – from Blacksburg – for late night practices. The Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs are one of the ten “Penalty Box Associates,” as the group is calling itself. General Manager Mickey Gray said it will “certainly help to have ice available at all times” when the Berglund Center is unavailable.

It will also help to grow the fan base, by having a venue where recreation leagues can flourish. “Hockey is a contagious sport. The more you play it the more you want to watch it,” said Gray. “I think it’s just great to grow the sport in the valley.” In fact, Gray said one of the first meetings he had when taking the Rail Yard Dawgs position was with Jason Pollard, the ringleader for the Penalty Box group. Plans include two million dollars of investment to restore the Lancerlot ice rink and make other improvements to the facility, which will also remain as a fitness center.

“Pretty much from day one this has been on my radar,” said Gray. “I think we had a pretty good idea we would be involved with it as well.” From the hockey side of the equation, it may mean perhaps another 15-20 practices when the Berglund Center is unavailable.  “Being able to practice there and not miss a bit is certainly going to help.”

Pollard, who runs a regional chain of Sprint stores, is also president of the Valley Youth Hockey Association, which has been involved as well with the Rail Yard Dawgs since the team’s inception. Nine of the ten Penalty Box owners are local; the tenth – Breakaway Sports – is the Rail Yard Dawgs.

“I count them as local,” said Pollard, “and they are an absolute partner.” Pollard also gives a nod to adult hockey player Rick Kelley and the group he founded, the Roanoke Valley Ice Advocates, who have beat the drum about the need for a dedicated ice rink since the Ice Station shut down. Kelley is also one of the Penalty Box partners, as is another Ice Advocates founder.

Taking a cue from the Ice Advocates, Pollard said Penalty Box “ran with it” doing the feasibility studies and coming up with a business model that works where the Ice Station didn’t. Pollard also cites Brabham for helping put together a deal to buy the Lancerlot that made economic sense.  Brabham helped found the ECHL – where the Express and other Roanoke-branded teams played – and is a member of that league’s Hall of Fame.

“The demand is there,” said Pollard, who notes that recreation leagues are at or near capacity – there is even a waiting list for youth programs. Four or five additional adult league teams have come on board over the past few years. The goal is to launch the reborn ice rink by September. “What we’re looking at is not replacing – this is an addition to the ice at the Berglund Center.”

Gene Marrano