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NHL Takes Part in White House Holiday Ice Rink Opening

WASHINGTON — First lady Jill Biden opened the 2023 White House Holiday Ice Rink on Wednesday with an assist from the NHL and children from the NHL and NHL Players’ Association Learn to Play program.

Biden participated in a ceremonial puck drop on the rink on the White House South Lawn with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Will Shafroth, chief executive officer of the National Park Foundation. Snoopy from the Peanuts Worldwide lined up for the face-off against Keira Rosenberg, a local 9-year-old player from the Learn to Play program.

“It’s a great time of year,” Commissioner Bettman said. “Hockey, skating, ice rinks bring people together, particularly at this time of the year and it’s an honor to have a rink at the White House, to have this gathering, to have the first lady participate, and it’s just another fun way for people to connect with the game.”

Recalling how she skated with her sisters on the frozen canals of the Delaware River when she was a child, the first lady said the outdoor rink on the South Lawn fit perfectly with the White House holiday theme of “Magic, Wonder, and Joy.”

“What’s more magical and wonderful and joyful than being on the ice rink on the South Lawn of the White House?” Biden said. “It’s so great to look out the window and to see this down here. So, I hope each of you enjoy your time here at the White House and that the memories you make will stay with you for all of your holidays to come.”

About 30 local children, ages 8-12, from the Learn to Play program participated in the event. Part of the NHL and NHLPA Industry Growth Fund, the Learn to Play program debuted in 2014 with a commitment to growing the game at the youth level by providing first-time participants with free head-to-toe equipment and weekly on-ice instruction with certified coaches.

The program has 120,000 registered players across the United States.

The NHL/NHLPA Industry Growth Fund, which was created to help grow the game at all levels on and off the ice with an emphasis on youth, is celebrating its 10th anniversary this season. Established as part of the NHL/NHLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2013, the IGF has contributed more than $180 million to develop programming, host events and provide education that drives awareness and brings hockey communities together.

“We think Learn to Play is a great entry for kind of a try-before-you-buy type program,” said Rob Knesaurek, NHL senior vice president, community development and industry growth. “We want the kids to enjoy hockey, all elements of hockey. Although we might have some kids go on to play professional hockey, that’s not our intent. Our intent is really the three F’s: fun, friendship, fitness. So, as you can see today, there are lots of smiles. We’re amongst lots of friends here and family, so it’s all a good endeavor.”

In addition to the first lady, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland was among the guests at the ceremony, which was emceed by 1988 Calgary Olympics gold medalist and 1988 world champion figure skater Brian Boitano. The evening also featured performances by Adagio pairs figure skaters David Faria Oliveira and Carlina Justine Ramirez, the Capital Theatre on Ice figure skating team, and Snoopy with his partner Kim Navarro, the skating director at Snoopy’s Home Ice in Santa Rosa, California.

The Marine Jazz Ensemble set the musical tone by playing holiday songs while Learn to Play players were led by USA Hockey and NHLPA representatives through on-ice games and drills on the ice rink following the opening ceremony.

“I truly have gone to some of the most iconic rinks in our country and this really takes the cake,” Boitano said. “I think it should be here year-round. I love introducing kids that might not know hockey or figure skating. I would love introduce kids to any type of skating.”

The White House rink provides a reminder of hockey’s outdoor origins. Supported by the National Park Service, National Park Foundation, NHL, NHLPA and Comcast, the rink will be open throughout December, with children of military families, frontline workers, first responders, educators, and local school children invited to skate.

The NHL and NHLPA will provide programming at the rink through local Learn to Play program chapters throughout the month.

“There’s really nothing like skating outdoors. It’s kind of how the game really originated,” said Peter Robinson, director of youth hockey development for the Washington Capitals. “So, it’s really special for all these kids to be out here. Skating outside is special. Then, to be in the nation’s capital on the White House lawn, skating on an outdoor rink is really, really cool.”

Rob Baer, senior director of community relations and hockey development for the Philadelphia Flyers, said they plan to bring some children from the Philadelphia area to skate on the rink “later in December.”

“The Learn to Play program has been massive for us,” Baer said. “Over the last seven years, we’ve put thousands of kids on the ice, many of whom otherwise probably would’ve never picked up a stick, and we’ve seen tremendous growth at the higher levels in our area because we’re laying that foundation with Learn to Play, introducing kids to the sport for the first time, providing all of the equipment. They’re getting hooked and they’re staying in the game.”

This isn’t the first time the White House South Lawn has been home to a holiday ice rink. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter and first lady Rosalynn Carter constructed an ice rink there for 1968 U.S. Olympic figure skater Peggy Fleming to perform on during four White House Christmas receptions for the U.S. Secret Service, White House military aides, and White House staff.

Source: NHL