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Southern California ice rink a West Coast home for elite skaters

Southern California ice rink a West Coast home for elite skaters
U.S. Olympic figure skater Ashley Wagner consults with Nadia Kanaeva during a practice session at The Rinks-Lakewood in 2016. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The limited number of ice rinks in Southern California and the competing demands of figure skaters and hockey players used to turn figure skaters into nomads in search of practice time. But The Rinks-Lakewood has provided a stable home for elite skaters and is the training base for U.S. men's Olympians Nathan Chen and Adam Rippon, as well as Olympic women's alternates Ashley Wagner and Mariah Bell.

Lakewood Ice is among the rinks owned and operated by Henry and Susan Samueli, who own the NHL's Anaheim Ducks. Lakewood became a mecca when renowned coach Rafael Arutunian and his wife, Vera, began a residency in 2016. Rafael Arutunian, who previously coached Michelle Kwan, Jeffrey Buttle, Sasha Cohen and other champions, also coaches Michal Brezina of the Czech Republic and Romain Ponsart of France.

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"We're really lucky that our coach has a great relationship with the management of the rink and we have our own ice throughout the day," Rippon said. "The East Coast mentality is you have a rink and you stay there. On the West Coast you kind of jump around to a bunch of different rinks."

Art Trottier, vice president of The Rinks, said adjustments were made to accommodate the different needs of skaters and hockey players and that the arrangement has thrived. He credited Arutunian with drawing new skaters. "We've seen a big difference," Trottier said. "Of course you want to be around better skaters and high-level skaters, and they attracted a lot of skaters to the area. That benefits us as a building and also as a sport."

The Rinks is scheduled to open a facility at the Great Park in Irvine on Nov. 1. It will have three NHL-sized rinks, an Olympic-sized rink, and seating for 2,500. "We're owned by the Ducks so everybody looks at us as a hockey business," Trottier said, "but figure skating is also a very big part of our business and something we'd like to help grow, also."

Follow Helene Elliott on Twitter @helenenothelen

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