Friday’s Atlantic Prep Athletic Conference matchup between Holy Ghost Prep and St. Joseph’s Prep at the Skatium will have considerable significance. It will be the first APAC conference game to be played at the celebrated venue.
When the puck is dropped shortly after 7 p.m., the lengthy history of the rink and the brief but impressive record of the APAC will be officially linked.
Located on Darby Road in Haverford Township, and built at a cost of $1.5 million, the Skatium opened its doors on September 20, 1974. The timing could not have been better. The Flyers had won their first Stanley Cup just four months and a day earlier and enthusiasm for hockey in the Philadelphia area was at an all-time high.
The name of the venue was determined via a contest that was open to all residents of Haverford Township. Twelve-year old Michael Steinberg submitted the winning entry. At first, use of the township-owned facility was restricted to Haverford Township residents, but that stipulation was eventually dropped and the rink soon became arguably an epicenter for the growth of amateur hockey in the Philadelphia area in general and Delaware County in particular. And while newer, larger facilities have been built in the years since, none have replicated the Skatium’s intimacy.
Today it is the home rink for a half dozen Inter County League teams, as well as teams from the Independence League, the St. Joseph’s University club team, and the Haverford Hawks youth program.
Holy Ghost Prep coach Gump Whiteside has made numerous trips to the Skatium as a player and coach. He enjoys the venue’s atmosphere.
“I remember when it was first opened up and going there for youth games as a player and then later as a coach,” he said. “It was always clean. I liked the stands on that one side. The benches were really tight but then they did some renovations and made the benches a lot bigger and nicer, but it was a really good atmosphere to play in.”
Whiteside recalls the atmosphere in the building as being difficult for visiting teams to deal with. “It was a tough barn to play in,” he said. It’s a great atmosphere. I can remember coaching both (Germantown Academy) and Holy Ghost and having some tough games against O’Hara over the years. It’s been a great atmosphere.”
David Giacomin is in his eighth season as the head coach at St. Joseph’s Prep. When he started his career with the Hawks the team played its home games at the Skatium before moving to the University of Pennsylvania’s Class of 1923 rink. The Hawks returned to the Skatium this season.
Giacomin was asked what makes the building unique. “I think it’s the atmosphere,” he said. “In a typical year where you can have fans.
“it is an old barn. The student body and everything is all on one side. It’s built up over the glasses. You feel like everybody’s right on top of you. The ceiling has got a decent height to it but it feels like everything is on top of you. So, it’s very quaint.”
Giacomin considers the Skatium an ideal setting for high-school hockey. “It’s just a very exciting place to play,” he said. “It’s usually loud and raucous and when two teams meet, they bring their fans there. It’s just a super, great place.
“There’s the visual, the lighting in there, the ice surface is awesome. Teams seem to enjoy playing at that place, but what makes it special is the 800 to a thousand people that can be in there. It’s kind of suited for a high school hockey game.’’
In 2014, Giacomin’s first year at St. Joseph’s Prep, the Hawks were the top seed in the Class AAA Flyers Cup and faced La Salle in the one-game final at the Skatium a game eventually won by the Explorers 5-4 in overtime
Giacomin recalls that building was packed.
“It was one of those games where we didn’t know going into it how many people would show up,” he said. “Delaware County’s got a lot of hockey folks, and it wasn’t just people from St. Joe’s or La Salle there, it was people who liked hockey who wanted to come over and watch a good game.
“It was just so many people, five deep behind the benches and people wrapped three, four deep around the glasses, in that area and then on the way to the locker room it was almost 11 deep. Both teams took time to get the locker room in between periods.
“It was just a great atmosphere to be a part of and probably something that those kids will never forget.”
Giacomin is enthusiastic about the Hawks returning to the Skatium this season and bringing the APAC along with them.
“Don’t get me wrong, plying at Penn is a great experience, as well,” he said. “That’s another one of those old buildings. But if you brought in 800 people you wouldn’t know 800 people were there. With the Skatium, and all the people who love high school hockey around the area, if you brought in 800 people, you’re going to know they’re all there because it’s going to be loud. It’s just a great place to play we’re looking forward to it.
“Hopefully, we can continue that for years to come because I think presenting the APAC in that area, geographically would enhance our league.”