Bill Silverfarb/Daily Journal
Burlingame resident Erina Yamaguchi, 10, skates at the Ice Center at San Mateo at the Bridgepointe Shopping Center yesterday.
More youth are taking to the ice as hockey is becoming more mainstream in San Mateo County. And while figure skaters still rule the ice locally, more and more girls are taking interest in hockey, causing the county’s three ice rinks to expand their ice-skating offerings.
Numbers are up at the Ice Center at San Mateo the past year and the company is looking to extend another five-year option on its lease at the Bridgepointe Shopping Center, said Chris Hathaway, the ice center’s chief operating officer.
In Belmont, Iceland has been in business since 1956 and owns the land on Old County Road the rink sits on, said Ben Blandford, director of skating.
Numbers typically pick up in winter, Blandford said, and numbers have grown in all segments, including public skating, hockey, figure skating, broomball and its learning-to-skate programs.
A third rink, Nazareth Ice Oasis in Redwood City on Bay Road, offers Theatre on Ice, adult and youth hockey programs and figure skating. Nazareth has changed ownership in recent years, however, and the change has caused Blandford and Hathaway to work more closely together despite the fact their rinks are not affiliated with each other.
"We are not really competing with each other,” Hathaway said. "Our competition is essentially against other recreational and entertainment choices. We are trying to get kids who go to the movies or putt-putt golfing, for instance, to try ice skating.”
Nazareth actually tried to hire away the Ice Center’s hockey instructor, Hathaway said, proof that interest in hockey is growing in the region.
In fact, former Sequoia High School student Bryon Paulazzo earned a scholarship to play hockey at the University of Miami, Ohio.
With the success of the San Jose Sharks, more youth are interested in learning hockey and that includes girls, Hathaway said.
With a minor league hockey team, the San Francisco Bulls, set to play at the Cow Palace next year, Hathaway imagines interest will continue to grow in the sport.
The Ice Center is working with the Bulls now to help prep for the 2012-13 season, Hathaway said.
In San Mateo, the Ice Center has several hockey leagues for older children while Belmont handles the 10-and-under hockey league, Hathaway said.
The collaboration sends many families back and forth between both rinks and the Ice Center actually buys practice time at Belmont Iceland for hockey practice.
Hathaway contends that many of the area’s high school students who play football or baseball would have a better chance at going to college with a scholarship if they spent more time on the ice.
Many Serra High School students play for the Peninsula Predators, a junior hockey team that has a chance to compete for a state championship, Hathaway said.
Figure skaters also travel between all three rinks in the county to take to the ice during public and figure skating hours.
Wednesday, 10-year-old Burlingame resident Erina Yamaguchi spent several hours freeskating at the Ice Center in San Mateo.
The young figure skater takes lessons at the Ice Center but also travels to both the Redwood City and Belmont ice rinks to practice.
She practices up to five hours a day, five days a week, her mother said.
But Hathaway said the Ice Center’s philosophy has changed a bit over the years.
"We are no longer just looking for the next Olympic champion,” Hathaway said. The emphasis now is getting families to spend time together on the ice, he said.
Friday nights are meant for teens and young adults to congregate on the ice as the Ice Center puts on a laser show. In Belmont, it only costs $5, which includes skate rental, to play on the ice Friday nights, Blandford said.
On Saturday night, the Ice Center may stay open until midnight, Hathaway said.
"We want to be a safe haven for teenagers,” he said.
The Ice Center’s learn-to-skate program has about 450 youth currently enrolled and another 330 or so participate in the in-house and travel hockey programs, Hathaway said.
About 400 youth are registered in learn-to-skate programs in Belmont and about 40 are enrolled in figure-skating programs, Blandford said. Another 150 youth participate in the under-10 hockey program, he said.
"All of our numbers are going up,” Blandford said.
To learn more about the county’s three rinks visit www.icecenter.net/sanmateo; www.belmonticeland.com; and www.iceoasis.com.
Bill Silverfarb can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 106.