In addition to the first lady, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland was among the guests at the ceremony, which was emceed by 1988 Calgary Olympics gold medalist and 1988 world champion figure skater Brian Boitano. The evening also featured performances by Adagio pairs figure skaters David Faria Oliveira and Carlina Justine Ramirez, the Capital Theatre on Ice figure skating team, and Snoopy with his partner Kim Navarro, the skating director at Snoopy’s Home Ice in Santa Rosa, California.
The Marine Jazz Ensemble set the musical tone by playing holiday songs while Learn to Play players were led by USA Hockey and NHLPA representatives through on-ice games and drills on the ice rink following the opening ceremony.
“I truly have gone to some of the most iconic rinks in our country and this really takes the cake,” Boitano said. “I think it should be here year-round. I love introducing kids that might not know hockey or figure skating. I would love introduce kids to any type of skating.”
The White House rink provides a reminder of hockey’s outdoor origins. Supported by the National Park Service, National Park Foundation, NHL, NHLPA and Comcast, the rink will be open throughout December, with children of military families, frontline workers, first responders, educators, and local school children invited to skate.
The NHL and NHLPA will provide programming at the rink through local Learn to Play program chapters throughout the month.
“There’s really nothing like skating outdoors. It’s kind of how the game really originated,” said Peter Robinson, director of youth hockey development for the Washington Capitals. “So, it’s really special for all these kids to be out here. Skating outside is special. Then, to be in the nation’s capital on the White House lawn, skating on an outdoor rink is really, really cool.”
Rob Baer, senior director of community relations and hockey development for the Philadelphia Flyers, said they plan to bring some children from the Philadelphia area to skate on the rink “later in December.”
“The Learn to Play program has been massive for us,” Baer said. “Over the last seven years, we’ve put thousands of kids on the ice, many of whom otherwise probably would’ve never picked up a stick, and we’ve seen tremendous growth at the higher levels in our area because we’re laying that foundation with Learn to Play, introducing kids to the sport for the first time, providing all of the equipment. They’re getting hooked and they’re staying in the game.”
This isn’t the first time the White House South Lawn has been home to a holiday ice rink. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter and first lady Rosalynn Carter constructed an ice rink there for 1968 U.S. Olympic figure skater Peggy Fleming to perform on during four White House Christmas receptions for the U.S. Secret Service, White House military aides, and White House staff.