New Norwich ice rink manager has local ties

Norwich - A former Connecticut College hockey player and manager of an ice rink in New Mexico who has close ties to the southeastern Connecticut hockey community was named Wednesday as the new rink manager at the Norwich Municipal Ice Rink.

Douglas W. Roberts Jr. of Old Lyme, son of longtime former Conn College hockey coach Doug Roberts, signed a three-year contract immediately after the Ice Rink Authority voted unanimously at a special meeting to hire Roberts. He will earn $60,000 per year.

Roberts takes the helm of a rink that has been plagued by mechanical, financial and staffing problems. The rink remains closed from a May 6 mechanical breakdown. The shutdown has forced local competitive skaters to drive an hour to practices, delayed rehearsals for the annual November Nutcracker on Ice performance and has caused lost rink rental fees from local college players who already had signed up for ice time in early September.

Roberts said Wednesday he was not deterred by the problems, but rather looks forward to gearing the rink back up to full schedules of hockey, figure skating, learn-to-skate programs and public skating times.

"I'm excited," Roberts told the authority after signing the contract. "I'm really excited about continuing the opportunity to grow skating in Norwich. I grew up at rinks. I've been a rink rat all my life."

Rink Authority Chairman Francois "Pete" Desaulniers said he was impressed by Roberts' expressed commitment to all levels and styles of skating, rather than concentrating on hockey, and his desire to connect the rink to the greater Norwich community.

Roberts, 44, said he has been working in the insurance business for the past 11 years while his twin sons were young. Now that they are 14, he said the timing was right for him to return to a rink-based career.

After graduating from Conn, Roberts played hockey in Sweden for six years. He worked for 7½ years at an ice rink in New Mexico, where he played for one year for a professional team, coached hockey and later became rink manager. He switched careers when his sons were born, working for a company selling medical equipment. That career brought him back to New England and eventually Old Lyme, where he, his wife, Jennifer, and sons William and Camron now live.

The rink is expected to reopen in no more than two weeks, Desaulniers told the authority Wednesday. Roberts said he will use that time to reach out to the regular skating and hockey clubs and teams that use the Norwich rink.

Karen Hansen of Quaker Hill, president of the Norwich Figure Skating Club, didn't wait for Roberts' phone call. She greeted him as soon as the authority meeting ended and expressed her own excitement at the choice. She had seen him skating at the rink years ago, she said.

"I was beaming," she said of the selection of Roberts. "It's going to be an interesting adventure."

c.bessette@theday.com

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