The contrast between the blustery weather outside and the comforts of central heating indoors can be enough to make one go into hibernation mode. If you stay inside all winter, however, you'll be missing out on a whole bunch of seasonal activities. While many winter sports and hobbies revolve around the snow — whatever isn't plugging up our driveways or roads, that is — ice provides several opportunities for entertainment, too. Ranging from youth teams to professional squads, ice-based sports like hockey, figure skating, curling, and speed skating can tempt even Southern-bound snow birds to venture out into the cold to join the fun.
Rochester is definitely a hockey town. Given the area's proximity to those poutine-loving friends in the north, it's not difficult to understand why. At the professional level, our resident hockey team, the Rochester Americans, colloquially called the Amerks, understand how it's done. Now in its 57th season, the team is currently in the throes of its regular season that runs from October to April. During this time, it will play other teams in the American Hockey League from Rochester, Syracuse, Albany, Binghamton, the Adirondacks, and other locations.
The Amerks have created a following for themselves in Rochester. With the Sabres as a parent company, the club has established a solid foundation in the city, proven by the nearly 7000 spectators that attend home games at Blue Cross Arena. The Amerks also reach out to children with their youth programs. Teams can sign up to skate at the arena before a game or in between periods. Summer hockey camps also allow children to learn the sport from current and former Amerks players. Tickets range from $21.15 to $26.15 and can be purchased at ticketmaster.com.
Lately, hockey has been expanding in players, fans, and prestige across college campuses. This year Nazareth College added a men's hockey team, and Rochester Institute of Technology's women's team moved up to Division I, indicating the increased caliber of the team and a desire for a more competitive playing field. In 2006 RIT's men's squad set the precedent. The 48-year-old team recruits players who participate in junior hockey leagues administered by the USA Hockey program of the North American Hockey League for those 20 years old and younger. Many players come from as far away as Phoenix, Arizona, and British Colombia to play at RIT, and most have about 16 years of experience.
The women's team's upgraded division status can only have bolstered fans' spirits. RIT's Head Coach Wayne Wilson says, "For those who've never been to our rink to watch a game, it's a real fun experience — it's loud. But, it's just a fun place to watch a game. The crowd we get is energized. We seat 2,100 here. You're closer to the action and get to see everyone up close and personal."
The public can attend games at the Frank Ritter Ice Arena on the RIT campus in Henrietta for $5-$10, or watch games televised on Time Warner Cable. Visit ritathletics.com or call 475-4121 for more information.
If all this talk about hockey has got you fired up to try it yourself, consider one of the many club teams in Rochester. The Thomas Creek Adult League located at The Thomas Creek Ice Arena (80 Lyndon Road in Fairport) is one resource. During the season, which runs from September to March, nearly 40 teams of varying skill levels meet to play per week. If you've never played before, don't be nervous. General Manager Bill Lukaszonas says that the arena gets "people who are raw beginners, and some who played years ago who want to get back into it." For those looking to learn more, the Z Leagues are instructional leagues that includes classes and games. Or, if you'd like to see other amateurs play, league games are free and open to the public, and are held Monday through Thursday at 7:15 p.m., 8:45 p.m., and 10:15 p.m. For more information visit tcice.com.
Don't forget about the many other adult and youth hockey leagues in the area, including Lakeshore Hockey Adult League, The Sports Centre at MCC Adult Hockey League, Webster Adult Hockey League, Monroe County Youth Hockey, Webster Cyclones Youth Hockey, Rochester Youth Hockey, Tri-County Youth Hockey, Canandaigua Knights Hockey, Perinton Youth Hockey, and Livingston Blues Youth Hockey.
More graceful individuals may want to explore figure skating. One of the area's oldest clubs is the Genesee Figure Skating Club, founded in 1954 and currently based out of the Frank Ritter Memorial Arena at RIT. Many of the club's former members have gone on to compete both nationally and internationally, including Richard Callaghan, coach of Todd Eldredge and Tara Lipinski, and Stacey Pensgen, a silver medalist at the International Skating Union's Four Continents Competition in 2000. The club holds classes afternoons and evenings during the week, Saturday mornings, and all day on Sundays. Throughout the season, you can join the club at regional exhibitions, various competitions, social skates, the holiday show, and friends and family skate nights for free admission and skate rentals at $3. To learn how your child can get involved, visit geneseeexpress.com.
For other figure skating opportunities in the area, check out the Premier Skating Academy at the Sports Centre at MCC, the Webster Skating School, the Thomas Creek Figure Skating Club, and the Geneva Figure Skating Club.
One of the more obscure sports to hit the ice is curling. With the sport's inclusion in the 1998 Winter Olympics, however, it has made a resurgence. Rochesterians are fortunate enough to have a team in their own back yard. The Rochester Curling Club started in 1961 and constructed its own building in 1967, which became the Rochester Curling Club Facility at 71 Deep Rock Road. Over the years, the club has grown significantly. Just between 2001 and 2013, numbers have increased from about 86 to 250. As great as its numbers are, the team also has a variety of ages, with players from 10 years old to 86 years old.
The club holds league games every weekday, learn-to-curl classes on Sundays, and college curling groups that include instruction and games on Sunday nights. Frequency of tournaments, called "bonspiels," varies year-to-year, but this year the club will compete five times. Members have traveled to Canada, Utica, Cleveland, Schenectady, and Seattle, among other places to play.
Curling features two teams of four players each that alternate at sending a large rock across the ice in the hopes of it settling on specific point goals. It's a great team-building sport. As member Dorothy Roach says, "The nice thing about it is that it's truly a game with courtesy and sportsmanship... Everyone will turn to you and go, 'Great shot.' You never cheer if you make a good or a bad shot. It's a great sport to teach people how they should behave."
Each player shoots two stones during a match — the first person on one team, then the first person on the other team, continuing with each player until 16 stones have been thrown altogether. Players who aren't throwing are either sweeping behind the stone to maneuver its landing spot, or acting as the strategist. Scores are not added until the end, when the team with the stone closest to the "button," or primary target, gains points.
To learn the details of the game and try it out yourself, visit the club's website at rochestercurling.org and click on "Learn to Curl" for curling opportunities. If you'd rather observe, look at their schedule and attend a bonspiel free of charge.
While curling may seem like a more gradually-paced sport, at the other end of the spectrum lies speed skating. As Rochester Speed Skating Team member Michael Looby says, "Remember when you were little, and did something like jump over water, and it scared the living daylights out of you, but you couldn't wait to do it again? That's speed skating." The more than 50 members of RSST, who range in age from 4 to 76, have all felt the thrill.
Although there are many youngsters out on the ice, not everyone begins at the ripe age of 4. In fact, club president Jerry Roberts started skating at 59. "With us, the parents are on the ice with [the kids]. I think that's really unique. Where else can you do that?"
Having such a wide variety of ages and skill levels — beginners, as well as two 2012 National Masters Champions, and three who have trained at the Olympic center in Salt Lake City — practice together on one team may seem impossible. However, the team organizes workouts so that at the blow of a whistle, different age groups and skill levels alternate sprinting on the ice. Some skaters can reach amazing speeds, like finishing the 500m short track in 53 seconds.
The team hosts one large invitational per year, with skaters from eight different states and Canada. However, if willing to travel, skaters can skate in races every other weekend in cities like Lake Placid, Buffalo, and Syracuse.
Does racing on ice sound appealing to you? If so, sign up for RSST's "Learn to Skate" sessions held during the fall. But if you can't wait until then, email the team and they'll fix you up with equipment to join them at a practice sometime at the Sports Centre at MCC on Tuesdays and Thursdays, or the Genesee Valley Ice Arena on Saturdays and Mondays. If you'd like to watch before stepping out on the ice yourself, competitions are open and free to the public, except nationals, which cost $5 per ticket. For more information, visit rochesterspeedskating.org.
SPECIAL EVENT: Enjoy the winter solstice by playing bingo at the Solstice Bingo Party. Fun prizes and snacks with friends. Free. East Rochester Public Library, 111 W. Elm St. 586-8302. www.libraryweb.org/erochester.
THEATER: Experience the heartwarming tale of George Bailey and friends reimagined as a 1940’s live radio broadcast in Blackfriars Theatre’s “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play.” 7:30 p.m. $27. 795 E. Main St. 454-1260. bftix.org.