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Passionate fans helped Rostraver Ice Garden claim Hockeyville USA title

Stephen Huba
| Monday, May 1, 2017, 11:00 p.m.
Jim Murphy, owner of the Rostraver Ice Garden, is recognized on the scoreboard during the first period of Game 3 of the NHL Eastern Conference semifinals between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals on Monday, May 1, 2017. The Rostraver Ice Garden was named Hockeyville USA 2017 and will receive $150,000 in facility upgrades.
Kristina Serafini | Tribune-Review
Jim Murphy, owner of the Rostraver Ice Garden, is recognized on the scoreboard during the first period of Game 3 of the NHL Eastern Conference semifinals between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals on Monday, May 1, 2017. The Rostraver Ice Garden was named Hockeyville USA 2017 and will receive $150,000 in facility upgrades.

Seven years after his hockey rink had hit bottom, Jim Murphy is sitting on top of the world.

The owner of the Rostraver Ice Garden is still basking in the glow of national attention brought by winning the Kraft Hockeyville USA 2017 contest over the weekend.

There was more attention on Monday, when the Penguins were set to honor him before and during Game 3 of their playoff series against the Washington Capitals at PPG Paints Arena in Uptown Pittsburgh.

The Westmoreland County hockey rink, which opened in 1965 and once hosted Penguins practices, won $150,000 in capital improvements and the opportunity to host a 2017-18 NHL preseason game.

“It caught on like wildfire,” Murphy said. “I had a very good feeling going into it.”

The Ice Garden emerged as the winner of the national contest after three rounds of online voting, which began April 11. The third and final round on April 24-25 pitted the historic facility against the Bloomington (Minn.) Ice Garden.

Contest officials said Rostraver was one of more than 1,300 communities across the country — accounting for nearly two of every three rinks nationwide — that submitted stories demonstrating their passion for hockey.

Murphy said he will use the winnings to buy a new compressor, floor mats and LED lighting. The cost of the compressor, which keeps the ice at a constant temperature of 18 to 22 degrees, could cost $75,000, he said.

Murphy learned about the contest results along with everybody else Saturday, while he was hosting a party with about 1,700 supporters gathered at the arena.

Shortly thereafter, he received a call from the Penguins asking for an on-camera interview and inviting him and his wife, Kay, to Monday's game.

Also invited along with one guest each were Chris Kostick, who submitted the original nomination, and Gary Napoli, president of the Mon Valley Thunder youth hockey program. Kostick, equipment manager for the California University of Pennsylvania hockey program, titled his nomination essay: “The Most Resilient Rink in the World.”

The title was a reference to the fact that, on Valentine's Day 2010, part of the Rostraver rink's roof collapsed after a heavy snowstorm. The Ice Garden reopened eight months later but without some of its reliable licensees. It has taken several years for Murphy to recover from the damage.

He attributed the Hockeyville outcome to a “groundswell” of support from friends, family members, regular patrons and perfect strangers.

“As someone who had three kids who played hockey, you get to meet a lot of people in the hockey community,” he said. “I heard from people I haven't heard from in 25 years. They all jumped on board.”

Murphy didn't discount the role of social media, although he doesn't use it himself.

“I think it became a lot of fun for a lot of people. With the social media today, everybody was tweeting everybody,” he said.

Kostick, 24, of Mechanicsburg, Cumberland County, said support from the Penguins and Penguins' fans was crucial.

“Western Pennsylvania is such a strong hockey community, and everybody came together in the whole region,” he said. “The Penguins have fans all over the country, and they still keep their connections to home. When they saw the Ice Garden was up for this, they lent their support.”

Kostick said he heard from fans from as far away as Florida, the Carolinas, Wisconsin and Alaska.

The Hockeyville cause even got Pennsylvania politicians to reach across the aisle and express bipartisan support for the local arena, Murphy said. Among those who asked constituents to vote online were state Sen. Pat Stefano, R-Bullskin, and state Rep. Justin Walsh, R-Belle Vernon.

Murphy said the owner of the Bloomington Ice Garden called him Thursday to wish him good luck and again Monday to congratulate him.

The Rostraver Ice Garden is scheduled to host a preseason game between the Penguins and the St. Louis Blues on Sept. 24. The arena has a capacity close to 3,000 people, he said.

“Communities like Belle Vernon are where players learn the best parts of hockey — the camaraderie, the friendships and the pride in representing your hometown. It is the place where hockey dreams are born,” said Mathieu Schneider of the NHL Players' Association. “The players will be proud to visit Belle Vernon ... and play there in front of the passionate fans this September.”

Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-1280, or via Twitter @shuba_trib.

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