WILKES-BARRE — With the Winter Olympics coming to a close, the Wilkes-Barre area has left a profound effect on this year’s Games.
Former Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins coach Dan Bylsma led the U.S. men’s hockey team into the medal round. In addition to Bylsma, former WBS Penguins player Brooks Orpik was also part of the U.S. team — and one of five former Penguins to skate in the Olympics.
The success of the Baby Pens starts in their training facility at the Toyota SportsPlex on Coal Street in Wilkes-Barre.
Jason Jarecki is the general manger of the Toyota SportsPlex and says the excitement builds there during the Olympics.
“Typically, every day is a viewing party,” he added jokingly, though the Penguins did use that line in their marketing last week to sell the final few tickets for their sellout Saturday against the Providence Bruins.
Jarecki also brings up the programs the facility offers that get more interest after the Olympics.
“There’ll be an increased interest in public skating, and the biggest bang for our buck is the learn to skate program for kids ages 4-10, with an occasional adult.
March and April are the peak times of the year when people come out.
Figure skating is another important Olympic sport, as the Diamond City Figure Skating Club also makes its home at the Ice Rink at Coal Street.
Valerie Palincar, one of the coaches for the club, had the dream to skate in the Olympics. While she did not reach the Olympic stage due to a knee injury, she was the figure skating model for the 1988 Olympic ad campaign for Seagram’s Ale.
“That was thrilling because it was for the Olympics,” she said.
In addition to the commercial, she also coached professional figure skater Adam Rippon, who hails from the Scranton area.
Rippon was second at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in 2012 and has been reported to have had a role in Ashley Wagner’s efforts to get to Sochi.
“I coached him around 1997 through 2000,” Palincar said. “We trained five days a week before school to work on other elements.”
The two trained at the Ice Box (now Revolution Ice Centre) in Pittston. Palincar adds the Revolution Ice Centre and Toyota SportsPlex are some of the best rinks she has skated at.
The training paid off, as Rippon went on to win the Keystone State games, which jumpstarted his professional career.
The 24-year-old tried his hand in the Olympic tryouts, but did not make it. He continues to compete nationally.