A new compact ice rink in Essex Junction, opened by a Shelburne native, invites skaters of all ages to learn and train for the sport its owners have loved for much of their lives.
Elev802 is just that – a new facility for personal training and professional hockey instruction.
With the scent of vanilla cake in the air, skater parents mingled as their children glided around on the ice and practiced making ice shavings fly when they stopped.
“I absolutely love this ice!” said William Allen, a young hockey player practicing short-stops while using the ice for the first time.
Just outside the rink, a mom lifted her toddler son above the low wall to watch. Seeing they had an audience, the older kids on skates demonstrated their moves for the wide-eyed tot.
For Elev802’s owners, the crowd was just what they were hoping for.
Behind the project are some likely familiar names in Vermont hockey circles.
Shelburne native Peter Lenes made headlines when he played for the University of Vermont Catamounts from 2005 – 2009. Lenes went on to a 10-year professional hockey career with three seasons in the American Hockey League and the East Coast Hockey League, and seven seasons on teams in Denmark and Austria. He spent many off-seasons in Vermont doing hockey training.
Lenes’ business partner is UVM Hall of Famer Torrey Mitchell, newly retired from an 11–year career in the NHL, launched after playing for the Catamounts 2004 – 07.
Former UVM goalie Jeff Hill, 2004 – 08, is among the center’s staff. He currently is assistant men’s hockey coach and goalie coach at UVM.
For Lenes and Mitchell, the venture is a new chapter in their hockey careers as they focus now on nurturing the next generation.
“We’re taking something that we’ve played for over 25 years and giving back to those kids, sharing our wealth of knowledge with the Vermont community,” Lenes said. “That’s what I love about my work here.”
Lenes is careful to describe their role in working with young players. “We’re not coaches. We’re not here to step on any toes,” he said. “We’re here to help players from all over supplement their training, and to provide the community with more ice space.”
The past several months were busy with construction to retrofit the Pearl Street commercial space near the Champlain Valley Expo for hockey. Lenes and Mitchell worked alongside the construction crew.
“We were all starting at square one since we knew little to nothing about construction. But with the help of a really good contractor, Greg West, we got the whole job done, from demolition to putting in ice, in three-and-a-half months,” Lenes said.
“We were in here putting in that sweat equity – we painted all the walls, put all the rubber flooring in, all the demo,” he continued. “And after all that, for me to be able to look around and see walls that I helped build and the floors which I helped lay down, well, that’s just so satisfying.”
The facility is divided into space for personal training and exercise and the ice rink with the whole building just a little larger than a normal hockey rink. Lenes said real ice was key so as not to rely on other busy community rinks. The compact rink is practical while still adequate for training, he explained.
“We’ve definitely had people come up to us and tell us that it’s kind of a small ice sheet,” Lenes admitted, explaining the rationale. “Put your kid out there. I don’t care whether they’re in college or high school, cause we’re going to teach them the proper technique.”
Lenes said he and Mitchell cover the basics – Mitchell focusing as the skating and positional play coach and his focus on stick-handling techniques. “We can meet any of your goals, whether you want to be a professional hockey player or just want to learn how to skate,” he said.
Contractor and hockey enthusiast Greg West said the center can fill an important niche by offering training on ice separate from the busy full-sized rinks used by teams.
“There’s been a real deficit of ice in Essex, with around 10 teams using the same rink. That means some teams were having to get up at 4:30 in the morning just so they could use their time slot at the rink,” he said.
As teachers, Lenes and Mitchell likely will prepare their students to expect early morning ice time. But so far, this is all still pretty new. “Honestly, the transition to teaching hasn’t really even set in yet,” Lenes said.