Middletown Ice World, Protec Ice Center, Ice Vault Arena, Mennen Arena and Richard J. Codey Arena are state-of-the-art ice establishments in New Jersey capable of making any ice hockey player’s experience an enjoyable one.
Then there’s the Bridgewater Sports Arena, with its decaying rafters, deteriorating boards, loose glass, faded blue lines and goaltender creases and bone-chilling temperatures.
Once the hub of high school ice hockey in Somerset and Hunterdon Counties, BSA is dying a slow death, mostly done in by old age, years of neglect and quick, inefficient fixes.
“It’s probably the worst rink to go to,” Hunterdon Central head coach Paul Cavanaugh said. “You go in there and it feels like it’s 10 degrees below zero, the ice is terrible and the boards are all chipped up. With the ice and the rest of the conditions, it’s not worth playing there.”
Cavanaugh’s opinion is widely shared in the local ice hockey community. Senior forward David Dassinger of Watchung Hills, who has called Union Sports Arena and Rock Ice Pavilion home for his playing career, has been a visitor of BSA for the past four years.
“I’m used to playing here but the ice isn’t too good at all, it’s banged up all along the boards,” Dassinger said after his game with Pingry on Jan. 15. “Hopefully, they’ll redo it very soon.”
With new management in place, the higher-ups associated with BSA plan on making those much-needed changes.
Vincent Tuzzalo, who took over as general manager of the rink back in August, is responsible for overseeing the $5 million dollar renovation project that BSA will undergo in the spring.
“The place was neglected, it needed a lot of love and it needed a lot of care,” Tuzzalo said. “All of the ice surfaces need to be re-done and re-done correctly because of a drainage problem. We’ve brought in rink builders from Minnesota. They’re rink experts that have built rinks all over the world. The only way to do it correctly is to shut down the rink and dig up the ice surface.”
A native of Staten Island, Tuzzalo has been around hockey for much of his life. He’s been coaching for 24 years and has been around various ice arenas for just as long.
Along with the upgrading of the ice will be new lighting, dehumidification system, scoreboards, locker rooms, Zambonis and upgrades to its fitness center and arcade.
“Our game plan is to have three, new full sheets of ice by October 1st and for it to be a brand new facility with all the cosmetics,” Tuzzalo said. “Ownership could’ve shut it down. But, we all agreed that this place is worth turning around.”
For the three high school programs that call the rink home, Ridge, Pingry and Bridgewater-Raritan, hearing about the changes is music to their ears.
“Since the new management has been in here, they’ve been working real hard to make some changes,” Pingry head coach John Magadini said. “I know what their plans are and, in hearing about the changes they’re going to make, my understanding is that it’s going to be a first-class place.”
A major concern through the years for coaches and recreational skaters was that promised changes never materialized.
“Hopefully, the news about the changes to the place is true,” Ridge head coach Tim Mullin said. “I love it there. I don’t know what we’d do without it.”
Having already implemented minor changes to the rink, Tuzzalo insists this time is different.
“I know the public has been lied to in the past,” he said. “We’re going to do this right. The only way that place can work as an ice arena is if all three ice surfaces are fixed. People are going to be amazed. It’s going to be a great place.”