Rekich and Bourque

Aaron Rekich (left), the MARC's rink director, laughs with Phil Bourque, Penguins Radio Network color analyst and former Penguins player, after receiving a $50,000 grant from the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation on Monday afternoon.

Moments after posing for the formal photo near center ice at the George S. DeArment Ice Arena on Monday, dignitaries from Meadville and Pittsburgh remained on the rink despite the chill emanating from the 19 degree surface below them. One still held the giant check that had taken center stage in the photo, and nearby Iceburgh, the penguin-suited mascot of the Pittsburgh Penguins, continued to play for the cameras.

Phil Bourque, a two-time Stanley Cup winner during his time with the Penguins in the 1980s and early ’90s and current Penguins Radio Network color analyst, remained on the carpet set up for the occasion, chatting and surveying the arena.

“This is awesome,” Bourque announced with the same enthusiasm he has brought to Penguins broadcasts for the past 15 years. “I love rinks like this.”

Hours before the Meadville Bulldogs were scheduled to skate in playoff action in the Pittsburgh area, Bourque delivered an impromptu testimonial to the House of Chills.

“I like how cold it is because I know it makes for better ice,” he said. “I like the smell of it. I like that the people who are here, even though it only holds maybe a few hundred, are right on top of you.

“It just feels like hockey.”

With the gift of $50,000 from the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation that Bourque and others were on the ice to commemorate, the Meadville Area Recreation Complex hopes to familiarize even more youngsters with the feel of hockey at the “Rec” — a feeling that even a veteran like Bourque, who has skated on some of the NHL’s most gloried ice, still finds intoxicating.

Iceburgh

Iceburgh, the mascot of the Pittsburgh Penguins, goofs around with the $50,000 check that was presented to the Meadville Area Recreation Complex from the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation on Monday afternoon.

The grant to the MARC’s foundation will support the expansion of the youth programming at the facility, according to Rink Director Aaron Rekich.

Funds for the program are raised through 50/50 raffles held at each Penguins home game. Twice a year, proceeds are donated to organizations that share the mission of the Penguins Foundation. The money donated to the MARC’s foundation represents part of this year’s award.

More hockey camps and clinics will be part of the expansion, including the Little Penguins program Rekich introduced this season. Rekich also hopes to arrange more visits from professional players with the Erie Otters as well as the Penguins, he said.

“We want to get kids excited, maybe get them an autograph,” Rekich said, “and get Meadville excited about a little bit of hockey.”

Near the top of the list of priorities for expansion of the MARC’s hockey program is a new ice resurfacer.

“If our (ice resurfacer) goes down, we’re out of business,” said Jay Verno, a member of the MARC’s foundation board and former president of the authority that oversees the facility.

The grant from the Penguins Foundation comes as the MARC’s foundation is about to launch a letter writing campaign to support the purchase of a new ice resurfacer. The MARC’s present machine was acquired used in 1997 and dates back to 1986, Rekich said. A new resurfacer is likely to cost about $125,000.

The MARC, and the DeArment Ice Arena in particular, are coming off a string of fundraising successes that included winning a state grant of $200,000 in 2017 to support new ice-chilling equipment. A campaign to raise the additional $200,000 needed for the chillers exceeded expectations in 2018, raising $230,000.

“There’s still lots of work to be done,” said Ryan DeArment, vice chair of MARC’s foundation and grandnephew of the man whose name adorns the arena, “but we’ve come a long way in the last four years.”

Mike Crowley can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at mcrowley@meadvilletribune.com.

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