When the Ice in Paradise rinks open this fall in Goleta, a group known as the Boyz of Santa Barbara is going to feel like that Iowa farmer who built a beautiful ballfield in his cornfield in the movie “Field of Dreams” and reunited with his late father.
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“Is this heaven?,” the Boyz will probably be thinking when they step on the ice to play hockey.
A voice in their heads will respond: “It’s home.”
Instead of playing catch like the son and father in the movie, the Boyz blissfully will be passing pucks back and forth.
Nearly 15 years ago, the Boyz had a dream of playing hockey in their hometown. Through perseverance, fundraising and support from several influential people, that dream will soon become a reality in the community. The South Coast will have its own ice skating facility up and running by mid September behind the Camino Real Marketplace.
As a group, the Boyz of Santa Barbara have contributed more than $200,000 of financial support for the 46,500-square-foot facility, which will include an NHL-sized rink and a smaller rink. In appreciation, a locker room at the Ice in Paradise arena will be named in their honor.
The Boyz are so passionate about hockey that they rent 1½ hours of ice time at the Channel Islands Ice Center in Oxnard every Thursday to work out and play. Some of the guys also play in adult leagues.
“We got an interesting group of guys,” said Charlie Batsford, one of the original group members or “elders.” “We’re all best friends: doctors, dentists, painters, construction guys, money guys. It’s fun; we got this interesting eclectic group.
“The group that we put together — and we’ve been together for a while — are the ones basically driving the rink in Goleta,” he added.
“We’re the ones poking the bear to try and get this rink done,” said Andy Katsev, another group elder. “I can’t believe it’s going to get done. It’s probably going to be the nicest rink I’ve ever skated at, truthfully.”
The group includes former NHL player Steve Heinze, who played nine years with the Boston Bruins and the last two years of his 12-year career (1992-2003) with the L.A. Kings.
John Ewasiuk, a civil engineer for the City of Santa Barbara is also one of the Boyz.
Minnesota transplant Jack Norqual, founder of the technology finance company Winthrop Resources, is one of the money guys of the group. A major donor, Norqual is the campaign chair, a hockey player and a member of the USA Hockey board of directors.
“Jack is the one who made it happen,” said Batsford.
“It wouldn’t have happened without that guy,” added Katsev. “He’s the guy pretty much who took it to the very end, to the finish line, basically.”
The project also has received major financial support from Philadelphia Flyers owner and part-time Montecito resident Ed Snider and Santa Barbara’s Towbes family.
Katsev, a realtor and brother of local ophthalmologist Dr. Doug Katsev, has played hockey since his childhood in St. Louis, Mo. He moved to Santa Barbara in 1993.
“I almost didn’t bring my equipment,” he said.
He started playing inline hockey in Goleta and that’s where he met Batsford and some other hockey players in town. They got together and started making weekly trips to a rink in Simi Valley to play.
As the Channel Islands Ice Center was being built, Katsev made weekly visits to the center to ask about renting ice time.
“I worked for a company in Oxnard and had to go down to sales meetings on Fridays,” Katsev recalled. “Every Friday on the way back I’d pull off and go, ‘Hey, when’s the rink going to open? I want to rent ice.’”
After being told over and over again it couldn’t be done, the Oxnard facility finally agreed to rent the Boyz ice time.
“I brow-beat them for three months every Friday,” he laughed. “And they finally said, ‘What night do you want?’ I said Thursday nights.
“We’ve been doing that since ’98.”
In 2002, Katsev moved to San Luis Obispo, but he still made the weekly trip south to play hockey with his friends.
“I literally drove for 10 years and missed five times,” he said.
Batsford, who runs an IT consulting firm, took over the organizing of the weekly hockey night in Oxnard. Katsev set up trips to tournaments to places like Las Vegas, Phoenix, Chicago and even Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Batsford said there are 20 core group Boyz.
“Some guys have moved away but we’ll still get together once in a while for a tournament,” he said.
Larry Bruyere, who ran the rink in Oxnard and is now the general manager for Ice in Paradise, will recommend new players to the group, said Batsford.
Now in his late 40s, Batsford said he was one of the younger guys when he started playing in the group 15 years ago.
“Now they’re guys in their 60s playing and they’re good, too,” he said. “We got guys from their 20s all the way into their 60s. What’s happening is guys had kids and now the kids are starting to play with us. They’re going to carry the torch.”
And, thanks to the Boyz and their friends, they won’t have to carry it very far.”