As you’re watching the Winter Olympics this month and hearing the athletes’ backstories, one place you may not hear mentioned is the Arctic Edge Ice Arena of Canton. But it has a deep connection to the Winter Games, including through its role as the training facility for three-time world champion and 2022 Olympic gold medalist Nathan Chen.
Often called “The Edge,” the Arctic Edge Ice Arena of Canton’s roster of Olympic figure skating greats — in addition to Chen — includes Maia and Alex Shibutani (2018 bronze medalists), Meryl Davis and Charlie White (2014 gold medalists), Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir (2010 and 2018 gold medalists), and Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto (2006 silver medalists).
“They were here pretty much all day training,” says Arctic Edge’s skating director, Theresa McKendry, who has been coaching since 1981 and working at the arena since 2003. “They were [doing] on ice, off ice, ballet, and workouts.”
The Edge’s ice dancing program for the 2006 and 2010 Olympics included training from world-renowned coaches Marina Zoueva and Igor Shpilband, both former competitors representing the Soviet Union. The 2014 and 2018 Games saw training from Zoueva and Massimo Scali, an Italian competitive ice dancer. Though neither Zoueva nor Scali continue to coach at the arena, their work is continued by current trainer Greg Zuerlein.
It was luck that introduced the newly opened Arctic Edge Ice Arena to the Olympic world in 2001. When Shpilband, who was teaching at a Detroit skating club with McKendry, needed somewhere new to train athletes, he contacted his colleague for suggestions.
At the time, McKendry had just joined The Edge, and she connected Shpilband with its general manager, Craig O’Neill. The two created a new dance program, which led to Shpilband’s athletes following their coach to the Canton training ground. “He brought all his teams here,” McKendry recalls, “and that’s how the connection started.”
While training at the arena, the competitive ice dancers lived in nearby condos or apartments that they rented. They trained Monday through Friday, often from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., in a temporary or long-term program. At the skating facility, which has two NHL-sized rinks, athletes underwent rigorous training. Every day, they alternated between practicing compulsory, original, and free dance programs while working on skills and lessons with their coaches, with whom they rotated sessions.
“One coach would work on their lifts,” McKendry explains. “One coach would work on their turns. It was a whole comprehensive program that they’d just rotate through all day long.”
In addition to training Olympic medalists, The Edge is also known for its renowned synchronized skating teams that represent the Arctic Figure Skating Club. “We have seven different competitive teams,” McKendry says of the program, founded in 2016, called Arctic Edge Unity. “We have all levels, from beginner to national-qualifying divisions.”
Starting in early 2022, The Edge will add an elite skating academy, coached by Olympic gold medalist Charlie White, among others. It also plays host to high school and college hockey clubs, adult leagues, drop-in sessions, and birthday parties.
“We’re proud to say we’re one of the rinks where you can be successful in all of the disciplines,” McKendry says. “It’s rare to find a rink that can teach all of them. It’s a full-program arena.”
How to join a skating team at Arctic Edge Ice Arena of Canton
For those interested in joining Arctic Edge Unity, the first step, McKendry says, is to learn to skate. The arena’s Learn to Skate program offers classes for skaters of all ages, ranging from children 3-and-a-half years old to adults. These eight-week sessions help launch students into the more advanced synchronized skating program.
“A lot of kids do the Learn to Skate program and then they’ll transition into a synchronized program,” McKendry explains. “From there, they’ll do private lessons to advance the skills they’re going to need to become a competitive synchronized skater.”
These teams go on to compete and travel locally, with the goal of eventually reaching national competitions. Yet those who simply want to learn skating techniques can sign up for skills clinics, which the arena is currently planning for the 2022 season.
For more information and updates on the 2022 program, visit arcticarenas.com.