2015 Fritz Dietl Award for Ice Arena Management

By: Kent Mc Dill

August 1, 2015

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In 1996, Nancy Mariani became the first manager of the Florida Panthers IceDen, the home practice rink of the Florida Panthers of the National Hockey League.

Almost 20 years later, Mariani and general manager Jeff Campol are celebrating the rink’s selection as the winner of the 2015 Fritz Dietl Award for Ice Arena Management, awarded each year by the Professional Skaters Association.

The name says hockey, the weather says golf and tennis and swimming, but the award says Mariani and Campol have built a home for ice skating entertainment and training in an American city better known for, well, just about anything else of an athletic nature.

“It has definitely been a process,’’ Mariani said. “We have summer here all year long, and kids are playing baseball, soccer, lacrosse. But people are looking to spend their disposable income in a nice area. Today, they just keep coming and coming. It is awesome.”

The Florida Panthers Ice Den was constructed by the National Hockey League team in Coral Springs, Fla., north of Miami and just nine miles from the Panthers home stadium, the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida.

Initially, it was constructed with two NHL-sized ice surfaces and was used primarily by the Panthers for practice purposes while Mariani began developing a figure skating program.

“We started out with an entry-level program, but since day one we have been growing the program, and in the last five or six years we have gone from not only being a recreational program to a completive program and now to an elite program,’’ Mariani said. “Our coaching staff and our elite skaters have drawn other coaches and skaters from the country and around the world.

“We knew there were ice skating facilities in California, Texas, and Arizona, so we knew it was possible to do this in a warm-weather climate,’’ Mariani said. “The first few years we were open, I was working seven days a week. There was a lot of trial and error at first, but the last 10 years it has worked down here and is a proven high-quality ice skating facility.”

The Florida Panthers Ice Den now boasts numerous medalists at the most recent U.S. Championships, including senior pairs silver medalists Haven Denney and Brandon Fraizer, junior men’s gold medalist Andrew Torgashev, and juvenile girls gold medalist Sophia Chouinard.

The facility added a third NHL-sized surface in 2009, and Mariani and Campol say sharing the surfaces has been a successful result of the blend of ice hockey and figure skating at the Den.

“We have our hockey department and our figure skating department, but we work to grow together in all ice sports because they are not top of mind down here. We work hard to raise attention to all ice sports.”

Having the Panthers as the owners of the building benefits the overall appeal of the facility. It looks major league; the draw the Panthers provide to the hockey crowd spills over to the figure skaters as well.

The Den is not alone in providing ice surfaces for area skaters, but it stands out from its competition in terms of the quality of the accommodations and the cleanliness and efficiency of the accommodations for skaters.

“Our location helps us,’’ Campol said. “Coral Springs is a pretty affluent suburb. We do not have a lot of snowbirds. Most of the people here have moved down here from the northeast and are here all year long.

Campol said there are seven other ice-skating facilities “within an hour’’ of the Den, but that the stability of their facility, in large part resulting from Mariani’s involvement from day one 19 years ago, has garnered accolades through numerous skating organizations, including USA Hockey and U.S. Figure Skating. Many of the figure skating coaches employed at the IceDen have been there since the early days as well, and as a result there is a sense of allegiance.

Now that the skating programs are established and reaching all levels of skaters, Mariani is still working hard to maintain the level of excellence that currently runs through the facility.

“I don’t say ‘no’ to anything,’’ Mariani said. “Seminars, ratings programs, anything that we need to apply for, I apply for, to try to get other coaches to know that we are down here.”

Everybody probably knows, now that the IceDen has won the Fritz Dietl Award for Ice Arena Management.