By Hiroko Sato
GROTON — For some local children, plummeting temperatures signal the time to head out to Legion Field with hockey sticks in their hands.
Ever since it reopened a few weeks ago, the 50-by-150-foot skating rink on the field has been attracting young skaters of all levels. While living afar in Frederick, Maryland, Mark Holofcener can easily imagine some aspiring hockey players kicking up ice in chase of a disc just as his son, Evan, used to do.
Evan didn’t get his nickname, “The Shot,” from Groton Junior Hockey League members for no reason. He was determined to be the best goal shooter and wouldn’t quit practicing. He also savored every moment of it, Holofcener said. And, the rink that has been created in memory of Evan — who tragically died in 2001 just before entering the eighth-grade, when struck by a vehicle on Farmers Row — help people remember him and how he loved being outdoors in Groton, Holofcener said.
“It’s making Evan really happy to know the rink has been set up and young kids can come and learn how to skate like he did,” Holofcener said.
“What a nice tribute the family did,” said Robert Flynn of the Park Commission, who helped to reopen the rink. “There isn’t a day that goes by without seeing kids out there,” he said.
Evan’s Ice Skating Rink recently reopened after a few years of closure. The rink first opened in 2002, a year after a woman who was under the influence of prescription drugs, drove her car onto the sidewalk and killed Evan who was riding a bicycle. The rink, a fund for which the Holofceners had set up, would welcome back local skaters every winter until a few years ago when the weather proved too mild to make solid ice.
The ice may not look that thick at first glance, said former Park Commissioner Don Black, but the bottom is much deeper on one end than the other because of the way the ground is sloped. It takes so many consecutive days of subzero temperatures for ice to form and that was missing during the past several winters, he said.
Flynn, a Groton resident of 10 years who was elected to the commission last May after Black left, said he didn’t know anything about the past weather conditions or about Evan’s tragic death when he noticed the board had the Holofcener fund. He suggested to fellow commissioners that they make use of the fund to provide local youths a place to play during winter.
The polar vortex arrived just in time last month to make the commission’s project a reality. Also contributing to the successful rink reopening were Groton Water Department and its Superintendent Thomas Orcutt, who provided water, Groton firefighters who used the nearby fire hydrant to pour water into the rink and the Clinton and Graham families who help maintain the rink behind their homes, shoveling snow off the ice.
“It’s a huge community event,” Flynn said of the project, thanking those who have contributed.
Flynn has also heard about Evan’s accident and reached out to his family, who now lives in Maryland, through Facebook after reading some 13-year-old articles.
“We were shocked to learn that the rink has been reopened,” Mark Holofcener said recently while talking on the phone. “It’s just thrilling to us.”
Holofcener, who is now retired from a telecommunication sales job, and his wife, Nancy, who works as a hospice nurse, and their other son, Ryan, now 23, moved to Maryland in 2004 because they found it too painful to remain in Groton after Evan’s death.
But, friendships they built with Grotonians, including those that Evan formed with his friends, have continued to flourish. On every Jan. 9, Evan’s friends wish him a happy birthday on the Facebook page that one of his former classmates set up, Nancy Holofcener said. They also remembered Evan in the high school yearbook when graduating from high school, she said.
That’s because Evan wasn’t only a hard-working and gifted athlete who played anything from hockey to lacrosse while also being artistic enough to write poems; he would also help his friends whenever they needed him — stories that Mark Holofcener would hear after Evan’s death.
“Evan was like a shooting star,” Mark Holofcener said. “He was so bright and shining that people were drawn to him.”
Flynn said the fund that the family set up will allow the commission to keep up the rink for many years to come. The rink has been jammed with youths on weekends, and he hopes the commission will be able to make the rink even larger in the future, he said.
“Hockey in town is a big piece of the equation,” Flynn said.
“Hopefully, 20 years from now, it will still be set up,” weather-permitting, Flynn said.