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Behind the scenes of figure skating - Dec. 20

The Ice House

Tara Lipinski used to train at the Ice House in New Jersey.
Tara Lipinski used to train at the Ice House in New Jersey. (Getty Images)

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By Liz Leamy, special to icenetwork.com
(12/20/2007) - Craig Maurizi, the figure skating director of the Ice House in Hackensack, New Jersey, certainly seems to have a golden touch when it comes to running a rink, just look at his track record since he has been there.

Back in 1999, Maurizi was recruited to be the figure skating director of the New York metropolitan area four-rink complex. Since then, he has managed to turn it into one of the sport's most popular training destinations for skaters and coaches in the U.S. and around the world.

"The honest truth is that the location of the rink and its proximity to New York City is a huge plus, and I think that your chances of success are largely based on the metropolitan area you're in," said Maurizi.

Maurizi, an Olympic and World-level coach, knows a thing or two about figure skating, especially in review of his background. He is a former national competitor, and has mentored many top-level skaters at both the domestic and international level; including Tara Lipinski, the 1998 Olympic Champion.

"I have an extensive figure skating background and I think I understand what the skaters need," he said.

Over the years, the Ice House has attracted a bevy of the sport's hottest stars, and has come to earn the reputation as one of the primary 'it' places among the elite figure skating community. Some of the competitors who have trained there include Sarah Hughes, the 2002 U.S. Olympic Gold Medalist; Sasha Cohen, the 2006 U.S. Olympic Silver Medalist; Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman, who placed fifth at the 2002 Olympics; and Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharuzilde, the 2002 Russian Olympic Gold Medalists.

In addition, Oksana Baiul, the 1994 Olympic Champion has also trained there.

Currently, the Ice House serves as the primary training headquarters for Miki Ando, the Japanese World Champion, and Daisuke Takahashi, the Japanese World Silver Medalist.

It is also the home skating spot for several top U.S. junior level competitors, all of who are quick to credit the rink's environment as a great source of inspiration for their skating.

"I think that the kids get to see the bigger picture with these skaters there. It expands their minds they see them and see that this kind of skating is real and also attainable," said Maurizi.

Right now the up-and-coming American contingent at the Ice House includes Adam Rippon, the 2007 Junior Grand Prix Final Men's Champion; and Jane Ruan, the 2008 Eastern Junior Ladies Gold Medalist, among others.

"It is so inspirational to skate in the same rink as Miki Ando and Daisuke Takahashi. When I see them jump, it's amazing it makes me want to work harder," said Jane Ruan right after her win at the Eastern Sectional Championships last November.

According to Maurizi, the stats for the figure skating program are high. At the moment, the Ice House has more than 350 figure skaters who train there on a regular basis. Of this group, 39 skaters participated in the 2008 Regionals, and eight qualified for Junior Nationals.

"We're growing," he said.

Aside from hosting so many accomplished skaters, the Ice House also has a top shelf teaching staff, and lists some of the sport's most celebrated coaches on their roster.

The most prominent name among this group is Nikolai Morozov, the esteemed Olympic and World Champion coach, who began teaching here last year.

Morozov coaches Ando, Takahashi and Rippon, along with numerous others. He also worked with Shizuka Arakawa (the 2006 Olympic Champion), and Alexei Yagudin (the 2002 Olympic gold medalist).

"We're very lucky to have had Nikolai come on board. He's a super guy and also a great team player. He wants to help out the rink just as much as he wants to help his students," cited Maurizi.

Over the years, the rink has attracted some other big name international coaches as well. Several years ago, it was the main training base for Tamara Moskvina, the iconic Russian pairs coach, and Alexander Zhulin, a former Russian Olympic ice dance medalist; both of who are now back home teaching in Moscow.

Meanwhile, the Ice House also has been successful with its learn-to-skate program. This year, the skating school had been recognized by the U.S. Figure Skating organization for having one of the largest basic skills programs in the country, with its approximately 1,500 total student enrollments. Each year, the Ice House also hosts the Moran Memorial Competition in August, which is a Basic Skills and non-qualifying competition that used to part of the now defunct U.S. Figure Skating Future Champion Series. Typically, this event attracts hundreds of skaters from all over the East Coast and Canada, and has come to be regarded to be an all important preview for those skaters hoping to make it out of Regionals.

Moreover, the Annual Summer Adult Skating Camp is another huge draw for the rink, and attracts more than 100 skaters from all over the country, Canada and the Middle East each year. Participants receive extensive on and off ice education at this camp, and also have the opportunity to work with some of the sport's most prominent coaches.

"The camp is very popular a lot of the adult skaters really seem to enjoy it," said Maurizi.

In the end, the success of the Ice House seems to truly be the result of Maurizi's terrific ongoing commitment to the skaters, staff and the sport. Sure, he might know how to get things up and running, but he also seems to have some great staying power once the momentum gets going.

"When I was a coach at the Detroit Skating Club back in the mid '90s, it was incredible. There were 13 U.S. team members training there, and it's always been my dream to have that here as well," said Maurizi.

Certainly, he seems well on his way to fulfilling that goal. At the moment, he is in the process of opening up even more ice to the figure skaters, and is also trying to figure out various other ways to grow the program.

"As well as we're doing, I still think we can be even better."